Edmonton MLA Peter Sandhu withdrew from the Progressive Conservative caucus Tuesday while Alberta's ethics commissioner probes allegations contained in a CBC News investigation.
Sandhu will continue to represent constituents of Edmonton Manning, but is withdrawing from government duties.
Correction and clarification:
A previous version of this story stated that Sandhu was present at meetings for the Standing Committee on Resource Stewardship on both Dec. 13, 2012 and Feb. 4, 2013. Sandhu, in fact, was not present for the December meeting. The story has been changed to remove the error
The investigation also uncovered a false statement made by the MLA in a sworn affidavit filed in a civil court case involving a dispute over an alleged debt.
"The appropriate legal avenue to deal with this is to request an investigation by the ethics commissioner," NDP Leader Brian Mason said in an interview with CBC News.
Sandhu did not respond to several interview requests, but released a written statement to CBC News through his lawyer.
In the statement he said he has "maintained minimal involvement in the day-to-day operations" of the company since becoming an MLA. He also said that "it is impossible to build hundreds of family homes without having a few issues with contractors."
In a written statement issued Tuesday, Premier Alison Redford said that Sandhu informed her that he would be taking a leave from caucus, pending the outcome of the ethics probe.
"I want to thank him for making a decision that puts the interests of his caucus colleagues and Albertans first," she said.
"I am pleased that the Ethics Commissioner has agreed to look into this issue and I look forward to learning the results of this investigation."
Court documents show Sandhu, or his house-building company, NewView Homes, has been sued dozens of times, mostly related to disputes over unpaid debts to suppliers and trades.
But the documents also show Sandhu, or his company, continued to buy properties while failing to pay some debts for up to a year or longer.
The trail of debt, including a default judgment and a consent order totalling more than $115,000, stretches back at least a dozen years.
A statement of claim for an unpaid debt of nearly $52,000 was filed by an excavation company as recently as March 26.
"The volume of (legal) transactions is disconcerting, to say the least," said Al Rosen, a Toronto forensic accountant who reviewed the court documents at the request of CBC News.
"To me, it adds up as in need of investigation," Rosen said. "And certainly, because this person is an (MLA), I think it requires disclosure to the public, in terms of financing."
Under the provincial Conflicts of Interest Act, MLAs are required to disclose not only their assets, but also their liabilities, which include court judgments. Sandhu’s 2012 public MLA disclosure does not disclose either the default judgment or the consent order, both of which fell within that disclosure period.
Dalhousie University political scientist Lori Turnbull, an expert in government ethics, said MLAs must disclose assets and liabilities because "we want to make sure that we know what members’ financial interests are, so that we are able to identify if they are in a conflict of interest situation."
In his statement to CBC News, Sandhu said he has "met regularly with the ethics commissioner" to discuss his personal finances.
Sandhu met with the ethics commissioner Monday, CBC News has learned.
Court records show that on April 20, 2012, Fancy Doors and Mouldings obtained a Writ of Enforcement against NewView Homes for more than $40,000.
But rather than pay the debt, land-title documents show that, about a month later, on May, 25, 2012, Sandhu and a partner bought a lot in southwest Edmonton for nearly $233,000. Six days later, NewView Homes purchased two more lots in the same area for a total of nearly $470,000.
Wages garnished for unpaid debt
In the Fancy Door case, the court subsequently issued a garnishee summons against Sandhu’s salary from NewView Homes. An owner of Fancy Doors, who declined to give her name, told CBC News on Tuesday that Sandhu had paid off the debt in instalments, making the final payment earlier this year.
But court records reveal another uncontested debt. On July 12, 2012, a court issued a consent judgment against NewView Homes for more than $75,000 owed to DeeVee Electrical.
In October, DeeVee sued Sandhu, alleging it agreed to reduce his debt to nearly $55,000 if he paid $20,000 on Aug. 14, and the remainder of the debt on specific days. The lawsuit claims NewView made the initial $20,000 payment but bounced the next cheque.
The owner of DeeVee declined comment so it is not known if Sandhu paid the debt. No statement of defence was filed and the allegations contained in the DeeVee lawsuit have not proven in court.
Rolling Mix Concrete sued NewView in September 2012, alleging an unpaid bill of more than $27,000. Sandhu has filed a statement of defence alleging the company provided substandard concrete. Sandhu filed an affidavit in March 2013 as part of the court case.
Sandhu, in his sworn affidavit, states: "I was out of the country from early December 2012 to the middle of February 2013 as my father had passed away in India. I was in India to get my late father’s affairs in order."
Sworn affidavit inaccurate
But CBC News has obtained documents which show Sandhu was in Canada during the time he swore he was in India.
Sandhu’s public expense records show he attended a meeting from Jan. 29, 2013 to Jan. 31, 2013 in Calgary as a member of the government’s Asia Advisory Council.
Receipts show Sandhu claimed for parking at Calgary’s Fairmont Paliser Hotel on each of those three days. A government spokesman confirmed Sandhu’s attendance at the meetings.
Sandhu’s public expense-record disclosure also show he bought gasoline for his vehicle on Jan. 29, 2013 and on Feb. 1st, 7th and 9th, 2013.
Minutes from the Standing Committee on Resource Stewardship show Sandhu was present at a committee meeting on Feb. 4, 2013.
"On the face of it, it would seem to show that what he put into the affidavit was not correct," Mason said. "And if you lie in a court document that can be a serious matter."
Political scientist Lori Turnbull said Sandhu’s history of unpaid debts will raise questions in the minds of constituents about his ability to serve as an MLA.
"I am sure people are not going to be comforted by the information that their MLA had these financial problems," Turnbull said. "And for a lot of constituents – not for everybody – that would make them second guess his ability as a decision maker."
Mason said Sandhu’s debt history "also speak to the ethical quality that we expect in our political leaders. And (Sandhu’s) record would indicate that it may be lacking in his case."
Sandhu said Tuesday in a statement he's confident the ethics commissioner will exonerate him.
A previous version of this story stated that Sandhu was present at meetings for the Standing Committee on Resource Stewardship on both Dec. 13, 2012 and Feb. 4, 2013. Sandhu, in fact, was not present for the December meeting. The story has been changed to remove the error.Sep 13, 2013 1:47 PM MT