Ex-Saint John Energy exec's theft charges anger Utah citizens
Anthony Furness is accused of claiming $51K in personal expenses at Heber Light and Power
Citizens in Heber City, Utah, are expressing alarm at revelations a local utility official who was fired and charged with theft had been running from similar trouble in New Brunswick when he was hired back in 2006.
"If the ratepayers knew the extent of this, I know they would not be happy — I'm not happy about it," Heber Coun. Heidi Franco told CBC News on Wednesday.
"We've lost a quarter million dollars on this entire alleged fraud with Mr. Furness."
Anthony Furness is the former vice president of finance for Saint John Energy, New Brunswick's second largest power utility.
He was charged with fraud by Saint John police in 2006 after being dismissed by the utility for what former executives and board members say were financial irregularities.
I can't believe we couldn't find competent people locally — competent people nationally and that somehow we had to go to Canada to find this man who was terminated for cause.- Heidi Franco
However, he fled to the United States before making a court appearance.
Furness was hired by Heber Light and Power outside Salt Lake City later that year as its chief financial officer.
But he has been fired again amid accusations he charged more than $51,000 in personal expenses to the utility.
He is currently free on $15,000 bail according to the Utah Attorney General's office.
Councillor questions hiring process
Franco, who was recently elected to city council and is now one of Heber City's representatives on the power utility's board of directors, said between the alleged theft, forensic accounting charges and legal fees the utility has spent more than $200,000 dealing with the Furness issue and she plans to find out how he was hired in the first place.
"Where did the references come from? Did he get a reference from his previous company — I mean how in the world could he not?" said Franco.
"I can't believe we couldn't find competent people locally — competent people nationally and that somehow we had to go to Canada to find this man who was terminated for cause."
Franco said Heber Light and Power was so anxious to hire Furness it paid "tens of thousands" to handle his immigration into the United States and obtain work permits.
She said she wants to know if his troubles in New Brunswick became known to anyone at the utility along the way.
Heber Light and Power recently had its credit rating lowered, partly because of the Furness affair and has applied for a 3.5 per cent rate increase that Franco said she will oppose until she's satisfied management at the company has improved.
Also fighting the rate increase is the Wasatch Taxpayers Association, a persistent critic of the power company. Heber City is in Wasatch County.
Robert Wren, a member of the association, said the dismissal and arrest of Furness was a black mark on its own, but to find out he was facing charges in Canada when he was hired raises more troubling questions.
“I've been following this thing for quite some time and that's the first I've heard about that," said Wren.
"It appears when they hired him they didn't do an extensive background check."
On top of the theft charge, Furness also owes Heber Light and Power more than $30,000 in personal and mortgage loans that he agreed to pay back over the next several years to settle a civil suit brought by the utility to recover the money.
Both Wren and Franco say they doubt Utah's Attorney General is aware Furness has an eight-year-old warrant for his arrest in New Brunswick and question whether he should be free on bail.
"I am going to let the Attorney General's office know because I'm not sure they understand this." said Franco.