Poppy under pressure: Calgary Poppy Fund letter alleges ‘embarrassing’ misuse of donations

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Poppy under pressure: Calgary Poppy Fund audit alleges ‘embarrassing’ misuse of donations
WATCH: A troubling letter outlining the results of a Calgary Poppy Fund audit in 2016 has surfaced in the wake of a Global News investigation. As Tracy Nagai reports, some veterans are now calling for a formal police investigation – Feb 5, 2018

A troubling letter outlining the results of a Calgary Poppy Fund audit in 2016 has surfaced in the wake of a Global News investigation.

The five-page document obtained by Global News is dated Feb. 4, 2017. It contains a long list of serious allegations regarding the misuse of funds, including large sums of money being given to people who were not veterans.

“A number of the individuals receiving assistance were not veterans nor were they dependents of veterans,” chartered accountant Leslie Beaumont wrote in the letter addressed to Provincial Command president Chris Strong.

“For one specific non-veteran, the CAO (chief administrative officer) prepared the initial application and approved subsequent funding totaling over $32,000 in a 39-month period.”

Beaumont also alleges improper charitable tax receipts were issued, medical equipment was not properly accounted for and employee expense reports were not reviewed.

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“In 2016, one employee was paid three times for the same expense,” Beaumont wrote.

“In addition, this same employee was paid over $3,000 for expenses that did not have receipts.”

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Beaumont goes on to express concern about her findings, writing “a registered charity should be held to the highest standard of integrity.”

She points out it would be difficult for the Calgary Poppy Fund to get its registered charity status back if it were lost.

“It would be very embarrassing to the legion, as well,” she wrote.

Sources tell Global News Beaumont was hired in October 2016 to perform an independent review of the Calgary Poppy Fund’s financial transactions after concerns were raised about how the organization was being run.

The general manager at the time, Joey Bleviss, was let go in December 2016.

Bleviss said the individual who allegedly received the $32,000 in funding was a legion branch member and that their parents had served in the force.

He added the person has since passed away.

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“Somewhere along the line they were entitled to it. If their parents served or they were involved — somehow — with the legion, we tried to help them,” Bleviss said.

The Poppy Manual, which outlines how poppy donations are distributed, states veterans, their current spouses and dependent children, are eligible to receive funds.

There is also a “special use expenditure section” in the Poppy Manual which addresses “special” funding to veterans and the elderly. That funding must first be approved by Provincial Command, whose officials act as the caretakers of poppy donations in Alberta.

The manual also states, “assistance cannot be continued over an extended period but may be offered more than once to an individual.”

“We had the funding, we were able to do it and I don’t think anyone went without because of it,” Bleviss said.

“Did I walk a fine line? Absolutely, but I thought it was absolutely necessary.”

READ MORE: Poppy under pressure: Veterans forced to ‘sing for their supper’

In a statement, the Calgary Poppy Fund’s current general manager, John Rathwell, wrote in part:

“From a privacy perspective as well as to maintain the confidence of anybody who comes to us seeking support, we do not make public the specific supports that we may or may not provide to any individuals.”

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Global News did not receive a response to a request for a copy of the 2016 audit or if any changes had been made in its wake.

Meanwhile, another veterans organization in Calgary has been asking for the results of the 2016 review.

Calgary Naval Veterans Association president Paris Sahlen said rumours began swirling about the audit around six months ago.

“Nobody seems to know where the money’s going,” Sahlen said. “And I don’t think anybody should be walking a fine line.”

Sahlen wrote a letter to Provincial Command in August 2017 asking Command president Strong if the “fraud investigation” uncovered misuse of Poppy Fund money.

Sahlen said he never received a response. He is now calling for a criminal investigation.

“When you ask questions and you don’t get any answers, I think that’s wrong,” Sahlen said. “In a major company, you would never get away with that.”

“Let the legions, let us know and the public know, and then it’s out in the open.”

The Calgary Police Service said there is no open investigation into the Calgary Poppy Fund.

In a Jan. 15 interview, Global News asked Strong about Sahlen’s letter and the allegations.

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“There’s a lot of misinformation in the letter. Is it sour grapes on their part?” Strong said.

“There was no misappropriation of funds. And I don’t think, as a member organization, we hid anything at all.”

Global News also reached out to Beaumont. She declined to comment about the specifics of the letter’s contents, but wrote in an email that her report had been distributed to Calgary Poppy Fund trustees, along with Strong.

READ MORE: Poppy under pressure: Where is the money going?

Beaumont said following Bleviss’ dismissal, she had been offered the position as general manager at the Calgary Poppy Fund at the end of January 2017, but Strong disagreed with the terms of the offer and had it rescinded.

“Chris [Strong] never made time to meet with me to discuss the findings of the report,” Beaumont wrote.

Strong said he was out of the country and unable to provide Global News with a follow-up interview.

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The legion’s Dominion Command sets general bylaws for provincial groups across the country, but notes there can be local variation in some rules and processes.

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Dominion Command said it has not received an official complaint related to the Calgary Poppy Fund or the Provincial Command.

The organization’s spokesperson was not available for an on-camera interview but responded in an email.

“If an official, legitimate complaint is filed by a local member, there are processes whereby an investigation can be pursued — including provincially or at the national level,” Dominion Command spokesperson Nujma Bond wrote.

“On behalf of The Royal Canadian Legion’s Dominion Command, I can tell you that we would be more than dismayed, and saddened to learn of a misuse of Poppy Funds, if true,” Bond continued. “It would be the responsibility of a Provincial Command to follow agreed-upon policies and procedures to investigate any matter that may pertain to alleged incorrect use of Poppy Funds within its jurisdiction. There are clear guidelines surrounding the use of Poppy Funds.”

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