Sagkeeng health centre director accused of questionable spending faced similar audit in 1990s

Ken Courchene involved in Virginia Fontaine Centre
Ken Courchene, who was named in an audit at Sagkeeng Health Centre alleging questionable spending, was also involved in the Virginia Fontaine Centre scandal.

The man at the centre of an 800-page First Nations health centre audit that alleged more than $1.3 million in questionable spending has been in a similar position before.

Global News has confirmed Ken Courchene, who was the former health director at the Fort Alexander Health Centre at Sagkeeng First Nation, was also the Chief Operating Officer of the Virginia Fontaine Addictions Treatment Foundation in the early ’90s.

The foundation was the subject of a federal audit in 1995, which uncovered nearly $1.2 million in “unsupported per diem billings,” $1.3 million in “questionable expenditures” and $200,000 in “travel expenses not supported with original receipts.”

During that court case, Courchene admitted record keeping at the foundation was “shoddy” but told media at the time they had “nothing to hide.”

READ MORE: Internal audit finds $1.3 million in questionable spending at Sagkeeng First Nation health centre

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Courchene, along with members of the foundation’s board and their spouses went on a Caribbean Cruise for “training,” justifying the trip by telling Global News at the time, they had three afternoon meetings.

The foundation’s director, along with two Health Canada employees, were sent to jail and forced to repay millions of dollars. Courchene was never criminally charged, but he was named in a federal lawsuit for allegedly defrauding the government.

The court found Courchene was not aware of the fraud and “at all times they were acting in the best interests of the centres and, equally important to them, the clients they served.

The 76-bed treatment centre received tens of millions of dollars in federal funding before it was closed in 2000.

Sagkeeng Health Centre

Courchene was fired by the new Sagkeeng First Nation Chief and Council, who then ordered and received an internal forensic audit that detailed more than $1.3 million in questionable spending.

Global News obtained a copy of the report, done by MNP auditors, which outlined spending that included travel expenses on top of a travel allowance for more than half of the centre’s employees, honourariums paid to employees despite explicit rules preventing the centre from doing so, and more.

“Mr. Courchene inappropriately directed the use of Health Centre Funds to the benefit of employees,” reads the report.

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Chief Derrick Henderson refused repeated requests for an interview to explain why Courchene was named head of the centre, given his past history with the Virginia Fontaine Treatment Addictions Foundation.

Courchene has also refused repeated requests for an interview.

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Read: Canada vs. Ken Courchene: