Former Manitoba fire commissioner pleads guilty to breach of trust, forgery

A former fire commissioner of Manitoba pleaded guilty to one count of breach of trust and one count of fraud on Thursday.

The Crown is asking for 15 months jail time for Chris Jones

A former fire commissioner of Manitoba pleaded guilty to breach of trust and forgery for taking cash advances and misusing up to $55,000 for his personal benefit. 1:41

A former fire commissioner of Manitoba pleaded guilty to breach of trust and forgery for taking cash advances and misusing up to $55,000 for his personal benefit.

The Crown is seeking a 15-month jail sentence and the defence is asking for a conditional sentence and no jail time.

At a sentencing hearing, court heard Jones used government money to pay off personal debts — in 2011, he was fired after financial irregularities were found during a routine audit.

He told court he was "truly sorry for my actions as a leader." And Jones said he felt a "profound sense of remorse and humility."

Jones became Manitoba's deputy fire commissioner in 2003 and fire commissioner in 2009. Between then and his firing in 2011, he admits he took 21 cash advances — a total of $55,000 — for business trip expenses. He allegedly used part of that money to pay off his personal overdraft.

The investigation started in 2011, when American Express cancelled Jones' government credit card for the second time after he missed several payments.

In 2013, Manitoba's auditor general found fraudulent activity in the province's fire commissioner's office that continued for four years, involving Jones' alleged contribution. He was charged in 2014.

An internal audit revealed $400,000 in financial irregularities at Manitoba's office of the fire commissioner during the time Jones was there.

Chris Jones was Manitoba's fire commissioner from 2009 until he was fired in 2011. On Thursday, he pleaded guilty to allegations related to breach of trust and fraud. (CBC)
On Thursday, the court heard that while he was fire commissioner, Jones, who was 45 at the time; was in the middle of a messy divorce, struggling to pay for the home his ex-wife and son were living in while also supporting himself.

Jones admitted to coping by using part of his cash advances to pay off debts and falsifying expense claims to cover up what he was doing. He also admitted to getting three subordinates to enter fraudulent claims, which helped his claims look legitimate.

The three employees handed the cash they received to Jones, never taking any for themselves. Still, they were fired for helping their boss defraud the system.

The court also learned there was no financial oversight at the office of the fire commission and the atmosphere was known to be toxic long before Jones became commissioner.

The judge is expected to reach a decision in the case by Monday.