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Three city workers fired, many more disciplined in 2017 after tips to fraud hotline

The city of Ottawa fired three employees after investigating tips submitted to its fraud and waste hotline last year, according to an annual report tabled by the auditor general. Getty Images

The City of Ottawa fired three employees after investigating tips submitted to its fraud and waste hotline last year, according to an annual report tabled by the auditor general.

One employee lost their job for “leaving work early and submitting falsified data reports.” Thanks to the fake documents, city staff had to delete data from 90 finalized projects and are re-doing the work.

Auditor General Ken Hughes reported a second employee got the boot for “inappropriately handling controlled substances and falsified documents.” A third city worker was terminated for providing colleagues and friends with confidential information that would help them pass provincial tests.

That person “may even have completed at least part of one of the tests on behalf of another employee,” Hughes said. The other employee is also under investigation.

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Hughes presented these findings to the audit committee Thursday, along with a long list of other cases where employees were disciplined for unlawful, inappropriate, fraudulent or wasteful behaviour reported through the city’s hotline.

The alleged and subsequently proven actions ranged from theft or embezzlement to misusing city property or abusing time on the clock, the auditor general’s report showed.

In addition to the three dismissals, a fourth employee resigned after taking an uncertified sick leave and failing to provide documentation to support the absence.

Another employee had their long-term disability benefits cut after the city found out they were “engaging in various activities” that didn’t appear to be line with the medical condition they claimed to have. That person subsequently retired.

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Out of the 193 fraud and waste reports the auditor general’s office closed in 2017, 39 were substantiated. The other allegations either didn’t contain enough information to launch an investigation (41), weren’t under the auditor general’s purview (48), or were inaccurate (29). The tip line also received 36 reports of behaviour or actions that proved to be true, but didn’t constitute fraud or waste.

In 2017, City of Ottawa employees and members of the public submitted 192 new tips via the fraud and waste hotline — 77 and 115 reports, respectively.

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This proved to be a substantial drop from previous years — a 33 per cent decrease from 2016 alone. The number of tips has been declining over the past two years after spiking significantly in 2015.

Coun. Allan Hubley, who chairs the audit committee at City Hall, noted that activity over one or two years doesn’t constitute a trend.

City employees and members of the public submitted 192 new tips through the city’s fraud and waste hotline in 2017 – a 33 per cent decrease from 2016. City of Ottawa

The auditor general’s team said the decrease in 2017 could be attributed to “improved behaviour” by city employees or better communication between management and staff. It could also be that the tip line’s website is tough to find online, Hughes said, or that people are submitting complaints through other avenues.

The fraud and waste hotline was launched in 2005 and is operated by a third-party.

Other notable cases of naughty behaviour closed in 2017:

  • One employee was selling City of Ottawa-branded clothing while on shift and banking the cash for themselves. That person received a letter from management ordering them to stop using the city’s official mark on their swag.
  • Another employee was disciplined for tweeting “regularly” on the job.
  • One worker stole a patient’s medication and was subsequently suspended and criminally charged. The charges were eventually withdrawn and the employee was reinstated after signing a disciplinary action settlement.
  • Two employees were using job titles that included the term “engineer,” without being members of the Association of Professional Engineers. One was transferred to a job with a non-engineer title and the other was told to cough up certification to keep using the title.
  • Another worker was suspended for three days for leaving a work site three times without clocking out.

The auditor general also looked into a report about missing hockey sticks at the Barbara Ann Scott Arena. Hughes found the arena’s ‘lost and found’ practices were not up to par with city procedures.

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The top five tips submitted through the hotline, by category:

  • Unauthorized use or misuse of City property, information or time: 58
  • Violation of laws, regulations, policies, procedures: 26
  • Theft, embezzlement, fraud: 14
  • Social Assistance: 14
  • Unethical conduct or conflict of interest: 10

Tips to the fraud and waste hotline can be submitted over the phone, online, by email and by traditional mail.

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