© Belle Hatfield photo
The RCMP Federal Operations section has announced that it has laid charges following an investigation of the South West Shore Development Authority (SWSDA).
Ronald Francis (Frank) Anderson, 64, of Lake George, Yarmouth County, has been charged under the Criminal Code with eight counts of uttering forged documents and one count of fraud over $5,000. He is scheduled to appear in Yarmouth provincial court on Dec 10.
The charges filed with the court don’t list specific dollar amounts.
The fraud charge reads that between Sept. 15, 2009 and April 24, 2010, at or near Yarmouth, Anderson did, by deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means, defraud the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) of money of a value exceeding $5,000 by submitting false or improper Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency Applicant’s Request for Payment forms, contrary to Section 380(10)(a) of the Criminal Code.
The eight other charges of uttering forged documents list separate timeframes, between the dates of Sept. 15, 2009 and April 24, 2010, in which Anderson is accused of knowingly causing ACOA “to act upon a forged document to wit: an Applicant’s Request for Payment form submitted to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency as if it were genuine, contrary to Section 368(1)(b) of the Criminal Code.”
The charges don’t specify what the requests for payments related to.
In September 2012, the RCMP Federal Operations Section commenced an investigation into the South West Shore Development Authority. The matter was referred to the RCMP by the Nova Scotia Department of Economic and Rural Development (ERDT) and its minister at the time Percy Paris.
The investigation revolved around findings released from an independent forensic examination of SWSDA that had been commissioned by ERDT. The investigation was extensive and included examining expense claims and supplier invoices. The forensic audit followed an examination of SWSDA's policies and procedures, which reported in May 2010.
In the Governance, Compliance and Financial Review (May 2010) it was determined that "there was a lack of diversified skill sets on the SWSDA Board, for example, there was limited or no expertise in legal, economic development or project management."
An independent audit found numerous instances of irregularities involving expense and mileage claims. The audit could not find an adequate record in the board minutes for approval of mileage allowances, salary, or pension plan contributions. It found irregularities in claims for hospitality re-imbursement.
Auditors examined 79% ($37.1 million (M)) of receipt transactions and 84% ($39.5M) of payment transactions related to fiscal years 2005 to 2010.
When SWSDA was shut down, it was forced into bankruptcy leaving many suppliers with unpaid bills, including around $350,000 to Garian Construction for its work in building the community centre at Par en Bas school. Nine municipal units were forced by the provincial government to pay back $588,000 to the Royal Bank, what it was owed by SWSDA on a guaranteed line of credit.
In all, SWSDA owed creditors around $2.3 milion.
The provincial government released a long-awaited report into a forensic audit of SWSDA on Aug. 3, 2012. The audit, carried out by the firm Ernst and Young, pointed to cheques made out to suppliers that were never forwarded, ineffective controls over expenses, a lack of diversified skill sets on the SWSDA board, annual operating deficits and insufficient financial and project information to enable effective oversight both in the long term and on a day-to-day basis.
Speaking with reporters at the time, then-minister Percy Paris said the audit report was being shared with the RCMP.
“The report will now be provided to the RCMP, without judgment, to determine whether or not any laws have been broken,” said Paris, who added he personally had not received any legal opinion on the matter.
At the time the forensic audit was released, the lawyer for Anderson, the former CEO of SWSDA, said the taxpayer money spent on a forensic audit of the defunct regional development authority is money that could have been better spent elsewhere because the new report didn’t say anything that’s much different from previous reports that money was spent on.
“What it really shows is maybe there could have been better accounting records completed down at the authority, but that’s all it’s showing,” said Barry Mason of the Bedford law firm Presse Mason.
When asked for reaction to the fact that the government had said it was providing the Ernst and Young audit report to the RCMP for the police to determine whether any laws were broken, Mason said making such a statement was meaningless since the report is a public document.
“The full report is really scapegoating and targeting Frank (Anderson), really, for hard work that he did to try and create employment down on the south shore," Mason said. "Sharing the report with the RCMP, it’s a matter of public record. By the minister saying that he’s really just saying that they’re targeting him and it’s completely unfair for someone who has committed so much of his time and effort towards creating employment down in that area.”