Police have reported progress in a fraud investigation into the expense accounts of a former employee with the Pembina Hills school division.
Barrhead RCMP say they received a case file from Edmonton Commercial Crime Unit on Aug. 21.
Eight days later they presented a report summarizing the case to Fort Saskatchewan Crown counsel, requesting an opinion on whether or not charges are appropriate.
“Should charges be approved a further decision will be made as to which Crown office will prosecute on the file,” said Barrhead RCMP Sgt. Bob Dodds.
It has been 21 months since the Barrhead RCMP launched an investigation into an allegation of fraud at PHRD.
The investigation was first started on Nov. 5, 2010, shortly after former PHRD Supt. Richard Harvey left his post without any explanation.
The story of a problem at the division’s head office came to light in October 2010 when the Westlock News learned Harvey had left his post with the division Oct. 25, two months earlier than his scheduled retirement date.
Division officials issued a one-line media release stating that as of Oct. 25, Harvey was no longer an employee of the division, and declined to elaborate further.
Then-Deputy Supt. Colleen Symyrozum-Watt would not comment on the fraud investigation except to say that about 750 Pembina Hills employees have expense accounts.
In December 2011, chief Crown prosecutor Jeff Morrison in Fort Sask. said that the normal course of action is for the RCMP to decide whether or not charges are to be laid, although the Crown prosecutor’s office can provide advice if requested.
“The decision to lay charges or not rests solely with the RCMP,” he said at the time.
Last week Morrison could not be reached for comment.
In March 2012, Dodds told the Barrhead Leader and Westlock News that the investigation had taken a lot longer than he had hoped, but added it was in the right hands.
Last Friday, Dodds gave a rough timeline of events after the fraud allegation was made to Barrhead detachment in November, 2010.
“I looked at the circumstances and felt it was beyond our level of expertise and resources so I asked Commercial Crime to take it on and they did,” he said. “I gathered the basics.”
Dodds said he spoke to Commercial Crime Unit on Jan. 19, 2011 and was asked to send on information. By then, he had obtained a number of statements and had them transcribed.
“Some time in January 2011 the file was forwarded,” he said.
After an investigation involving a lot of computer and accounting work, and further inquiries, a package was sent to Barrhead detachment on Aug. 21, 2012.
Dodds said he took a summary and some other documents to the detachment’s Fort Sask. Crown prosecutor on Aug. 29.
“What I delivered is essentially a preliminary package so they can decide what resources they need,” he said.
Dodds said the case might be beyond the resources of the Fort Sask. office, since it was likely to be a very complicated and time-consuming prosecution, if it went ahead.
In that case the file would be sent to another office, such as the Edmonton Rural &Regional Response Office.
“It could be months before a prosecution begins, if a prosecution begins,” said Dodds. “The bar for the Crown is a substantial likelihood of conviction.”
Dodds said Fort Sask. prosecutors were bound to ask him for further information.
“I have a six-box file in my office,” he said. “It’s as big a file I’ve ever seen. It’s a very complicated, very complex case and that’s why I figured it was beyond our resources.”
Dodds said it was probably the most time-consuming investigation in his experience.