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City of Ottawa fired 4 employees, 2 resign after tips to fraud hotline in 2018

Ken Hughes, auditor general for the City of Ottawa, scrums with reporters at city hall on July 4, 2019, after tabling his annual report on cases reported to the municipality's fraud and waste hotline. Beatrice Britneff / Global News

The City of Ottawa fired four employees and another two resigned after the auditor general’s office investigated tips reported to its fraud and waste hotline in 2018, according to an annual report tabled at the city’s audit committee on Thursday.

Two of those employees were each dismissed for inappropriate conduct against a resident living in one of the city’s four long-term care facilities.

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One of the staff members “committed criminal misconduct” against a resident; the other verbally abused a resident. The auditor general’s office did not name the facility — or facilities — where these two incidents occurred.

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The other two employees were let go for smoking marijuana in a city vehicle while on the clock. Auditor General Ken Hughes pointed out this occurred before cannabis was legalized in Canada, but he said the consequence would have remained the same even after Oct. 17, 2018.

READ MORE: Ottawa’s auditor general releases report on city-run, long-term care facilities

Two staff members resigned after it was discovered they had been stealing money from the city. One of those employees was responsible for processing cash receipts and had been stealing money “on an ongoing basis,” the auditor general’s investigation found. The total amount of money they purloined was “likely less than $2,000,” the report said.
The other employee stole about $1,100 in cash, according to Hughes’ office. The employee resigned and agreed to repay the city as part of a settlement reached between their union and the municipality.“Should the former employee fail to pay the agreed amount, the matter will be referred to the Ottawa Police,” the auditor general’s report said.

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

Hughes and deputy auditor general Ed Miner presented these findings to the audit committee on Thursday, along with a long list of other cases of unlawful, inappropriate or fraudulent behaviour or wasteful spending by the city or its employees reported through the fraud and waste hotline.Out of the 190 reports submitted through the hotline in 2018 — a number similar to the 2017 figure — 57 per cent came from members of the public and 43 per cent came from City of Ottawa employees.About 75 per cent of all 2018 reports were submitted online, as opposed to over the phone according to the annual report.Twenty-seven — or 14 per cent — of the 190 reports were substantiated, Hughes said. The remaining 167 tips were either found to accurate but compliant; contained insufficient information to pursue; not applicable; or inaccurate.

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Examples of other cases reported to the hotline in 2018 that the auditor general shared on Thursday included:
  • The city had purchased, in 2017, six trucks and attachments for snow plowing on OC Transpo properties but it turned out the trucks’ front axels couldn’t take the weight of the plow attachments. The auditor general found this occurred because a city-created chart used to track and assess the weight capacities of city vehicles was “incomplete.” The city had to remove the attachments, buy six new trucks and equip them with the plows, all to the tune of $82,200.
  • A manager hired family members, which violated both city and union rules. The manager was giving a letter of warning and the city launched refresher training for supervisors  on recruiting and hiring practices last fall.
  • A resident provided the municipality with two quotes to repair damages allegedly caused by one of the city’s vehicles. The city suspected one or both of the quotes may have been forged and referred the case to the Ottawa police.

AG couldn’t identify thief behind stolen cash from insecure safe at Meridian Theatre

In one case, however, Hughes and his team weren’t able to identify who made off with $1,360 in cash from an insecure drop safe in an office at the Meridian Theatre at Centrepointe last November.The theft came months after a cash compliance review conducted at the city recommended all safes be placed in a secure area, according to Miner. At the time, city management said the drop safe at the Meridian Theatre — a publicly-owned performance hall in the city’s west end — would be moved, Miner said.

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But that didn’t happen and the safe was not under camera surveillance when it was pilfered on either November 6 or November 7, councillors heard during a separate report released by the auditor general’s office on Thursday.Many councillors expressed disappointment that the safe in question was left in a vulnerable place.“Here we are, back here again with this situation,” said Coun. Allan Hubley, who chaired the audit committee during the last term of council. Because the theft was’t caught on camera, Hughes said it’s impossible to pinpoint the culprit, determine exactly how and when the theft occurred and recover the money. It’s also unclear whether the safe door had been locked or left unlocked at the time of the robbery.WATCH (June 26, 2019): A Kelowna woman is out almost $40,000 after falling for a sophisticated scam, but lost almost $80,000
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If it had been unlocked, any number of people could have stolen the money, ranging from employees to volunteers, to tradespeople and individuals visiting staff in the office, Hughes told councillors.If it had been locked, four individuals had the combination to the safe, Hughes said — three of whom were working over the two days the theft would have occurred.The Ottawa police also investigated the incident and and couldn’t identify the thief, according to Hughes. Police later told the city they closed the case.

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Staff at the Meridian Theatre had set out of find a more secure location for that particular drop safe last year, but there weren’t many options, according to the city’s general manager of recreation, cultural and facility services. A permanent solution would require constructing a proper accounting room, Dan Chenier said.But he conceded that the staff should have “immediately” found a secure, temporary location for the safe last year.“Shortly after the theft, the safe was moved and is now in a temporary location that is secure and under camera,” Chenier told councillors.The investigation also found that only one person counted the remaining cash in the drop safe after the robbery, which increased the risk of having more money stolen, Miner told councillors. City management has agreed with the AG’s recommendation to have at least two staff present during cash reconciliation counts.
“I thought that was so obvious,” Coun. Theresa Kavanagh said.

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