REGINA -- More than $1 million in government funding meant to help the poorest of the poor has been misappropriated over 10 years from the Department of Community Resources and Employment, the provincial government confirmed Monday.
Community Resources Minister Joanne Crofford also said that the government did not know until it was reported by the CBC on Monday that the Saskatoon-based employee fired in connection with the case had been convicted of fraud against the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Newfoundland in 1984.
In a press conference at the legislature, Crofford said Evelyn Hynes, a social worker who served as manager of income security, was hired in 1989, while the department only instituted criminal record checks for employees in sensitive positions in 1997.
Crofford called the situation a very huge breach of trust while Premier Lorne Calvert promised the government would get to the bottom of the case.
I would say to those for whom these specific dollars were destined, this is not tolerable in the community of Saskatchewan. We have a long tradition of caring for our neighbours, particularly those who have least among us, our neighbours in need. This is simply not tolerable in the province of Saskatchewan, he told reporters at the economic summit in Saskatoon.
Crofford would not elaborate on what breaches had taken place, citing the ongoing RCMP and governmental investigation of the case. No charges have yet been laid, according to the RCMP.
The Saskatchewan Party said the government is talking tough now but has failed to heed continuing warning signals from the provincial auditor and others.
For the last 20 some years there has not been an increase to the food allowance because the government pleads poverty and at the same time they're not putting in controls to address the money that's being spent in the department, said Community Resources critic Brenda Bakken.
This is not an isolated case, she added, saying that the government is ignoring another case within the department that she has been trying to bring to their attention.
Provincial auditor Fred Wendel has repeatedly raised concerns that Community Resources, once known as Social Services, was not doing enough to ensure only eligible people received social assistance. He repeated the concern as recently as his fall 2004 report, released last month, although he also acknowledged the government has taken steps to increase its oversight.
Wendel was out of the province and unable to comment Monday.
OFFICE WORKERS HAD CONCERNS
Crofford said that employees in Community Resources' Saskatoon office raised concerns about financial irregularities on Dec. 1 after a regular review of social assistance files.
The government announced on Dec. 21 that an employee in Community Resources and an employee in Environment had each been suspended in unrelated cases of financial irregularities within their departments. On Jan. 6, Hynes was fired.
I believe this heightened awareness of compliance and staff training has led to the financial irregularities being identified, said Crofford.
The minister said extending criminal record checks would mean a huge use of RCMP resources but the government will consider taking such steps as doing them retroactively for employees hired before 1997.
According to reports, Hynes received a pardon for her crime, which involved defrauding CIBC of over $600,000 in her position as an assistant loans officer in Corner Brook by issuing loans to fictitious people. A pardon means it would not have appeared on a criminal record check.
Hynes could not be reached for comment Monday.
Wynne Young, deputy minister for Community Resources, confirmed that Hynes' husband is also a Community Resources employee who is currently on leave.
Hynes is the only department employee being investigated by the government in connection to the misappropriation, said Young.
While the government has now released a name and a dollar figure in connection with the irregularities in Community Resources, it is still not doing so for the Environment department's case.
Donna Johnson, Environment's director of finance and administration, said she believes the Community Resource's investigation is further along than that of her department.
She said at this point there is no evidence of involvement by any other employee.
We're doing a full investigation of the issue, Johnson said. I don't believe that we're going to find anything beyond the one employee, but until the investigation is complete we can never say for a certainty.
Ken Rasmussen, an administration professor at the University of Regina, said putting in safeguards for government funding is a difficult balancing act.
It does seem like that kind of (misappropriation) should have been caught sooner . . . obviously there was some systemic flaw in the accounting mechanisms, he said in an interview.
It does sound dubious but on the other hand, if somebody wants to steal money from you and is going to take large risks at doing it, there's relatively little you can do besides having a level of audit and control that would bring all of government into disrepute.
REGINA -- A provincial social worker is being investigated in a case involving $1 million in missing money that had been earmarked for Saskatchewan's poorest families, the provincial government said yesterday. No charges have been laid against Evelyn Hynes and she could not be immediately reached for comment.
Community Resources Minister Joanne Crofford told a news conference Hynes had a prior criminal record for fraud that they had not known about.
It has also come to our attention that this former employee, first hired in 1989, was convicted of fraud in another province during the 1980s and subsequently received a pardon, Crofford said.
She said mandatory criminal record checks on prospective employees were not instituted until 1997.
FIRED EARLIER THIS MONTH
Hynes worked in the Community Resources Department until she was fired earlier this month.
Police raided her office, seized files and a computer.
Crofford said she was disappointed and angry about the missing money. This (money) was out of the income security area, so this would be money that's provided directly for basic needs of the poorest of the poor -- families in need, Crofford said.
A CBC report said Hynes worked as an assistant loans officer at a Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce branch in Corner Brook, Nfld., in the 1980s.
The report said she was convicted of 22 counts of fraud in a $600,000 scam that involved bogus loans given to phoney clients. It said she was sentenced to two years in jail and later applied for and received a pardon.