British Columbia

Luxurious trips, lavish overspending alleged in bombshell report on expenses of top B.C. Legislature officials

Two senior B.C. Legislature officials who were suspended two months ago are being investigated for allegedly fraudulent and flagrant overspending, "lavish" trips overseas, inappropriate expense claims, cash payouts and misappropriating liquor from the legislature.

Inappropriate cash payouts, fraudulent expenses and misappropriated liquor part of the allegations

Alan Mullen, special adviser to B.C.'s Speaker of the House, holds up a copy of the report into suspended clerk of the legislature Craig James, and suspended sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Two senior B.C. Legislature officials who were suspended two months ago are being investigated for allegedly fraudulent and flagrant overspending, "lavish" trips overseas, inappropriate expense claims, cash payouts and misappropriating liquor from the legislature, according to Speaker of the House Darryl Plecas. 

Plecas' 76-page report was released Monday after it was reviewed by members of the legislature's management committee.

The report says that, based on what he had seen and heard, Plecas believed there was a real possibility crimes may have been committed and he felt obligated to contact the RCMP. The committee voted to release the report Monday and agreed to launch an audit of legislature finances, conduct a workplace review and submit that report to an auditor from outside of B.C.

Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were both suspended Nov. 20 and escorted out of the legislature by police. They have not been charged with any crime, and have denied all wrongdoing.

Shortly before the report was released to the media, Alan Mullen, adviser to Plecas, told reporters the allegations involve "millions of dollars."

"I would suggest what's contained in this report is improper, at times against policy," said Mullen.

"It's not speculation, it's not made up, it's not opinion. It is fact and it is backed up by documents, receipts, letters and proof."

'False and untrue'

James and Lenz said in a statement they were "shocked."

"Prior to the release of these allegations this afternoon, no one shared them with us, no one told us what we are being accused of and no one gave us any chance to respond," it read in part.

"The Speaker has now compounded the harm to us and our families by preparing a report in secret, without any input from us, and recommended that it be released to the public to further blacken our reputations. We are only now able to read the allegations for the first time and we are confident that time will show that they are completely false and untrue."

Lenz and James said they were 'shocked' by the report. (CBC)

The statement said that releasing the report without providing a chance for them to respond was "contrary to how our public institutions should treat people."

It said the pair would issue a more detailed response after going through the list of allegations.

Mike Farnworth, B.C.'s solicitor general, said he was shocked and saddened to read the allegations in the report, calling them "unacceptable."

"I think the general public would look at it and say, 'That's just wrong,' " he said.

'Flagrant' overspending

The report, which includes details of trips and conversations, as well as scanned receipts and tables of expenses, alleges overspending and misappropriation of funds in a number of areas, including:

  • "Flagrant overspending on luxurious trips" with "questionable" business rationales, and taking overnight trips at the legislature's expense, for what appear to be "other than legitimate work purposes."
  • Expensing personal purchases to the legislature, totalling tens of thousands of dollars over a period of less than two years.
  • "Inappropriate" cash payouts in lieu of vacation, totalling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • Misappropriation of alcohol and electronic equipment.
  • Potentially "retributive or otherwise unjustified" termination of employees.

The report also alleges that steps were taken to conceal information that could have indicated improperly claimed expenditures, and that attempts were made to access benefits in the millions of dollars.

Alan Mullen, a special advisor to the House Speaker, details some of the allegations that led to the suspension of two senior legislature officials. 1:47

Surprised at 'how little we were doing'

The report describes a 2018 trip to the U.K., where Plecas was travelling with James and Lenz. The travellers stayed in luxury hotels and flew business class, the report says. The three were travelling for a series of introductory meetings, which Plecas said "did not seem to me to be the kind of conversation that required an in-person meeting."

"Throughout the trip, I was very surprised at how luxuriously we were travelling and how little we were doing for a work trip," wrote Plecas, who said he was new to the job and didn't want to alienate the pair.

He said the pair claimed per diems for meals that were provided and not paid for out of pocket, and charged souvenirs to taxpayers. The report also alleges $1,100 was expensed for a suit, which Lenz said was a "uniform" for work. 

One part of the report describes the purchase of a wood splitter for $3,200, to prepare for a crisis scenario in which a tree fell on the legislature grounds. However the wood splitter was delivered to James's home, where Lenz and James used it to split firewood, the report says.

The report also alleges that James instructed three Legislative employees to load alcohol leftover from an event into his truck, and details that $5,000 worth of digital subscriptions to magazines like Arizona Highways and Electric Bike Action were expensed.

Hires made

Plecas hired Mullen, a former federal prison administrator and personal friend, to investigate the case in January 2018. 

He also recently hired Wally Oppal, a retired judge and former B.C. attorney general, to offer legal advice on the situation.

In November the pair told reporters they were humiliated after being placed on administrative leave and that they want their jobs and their reputations back.

House Speaker Darryl Plecas told the legislative assembly management committee that his 78 page report into the suspensions of two top B.C. Legislature officials should be made public. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Both men said at the time they did not know what they were alleged to have done and offered to co-operate with the RCMP investigation.

Two special prosecutors were appointed to oversee the police on Oct. 1, prior to the story becoming public.

The RCMP has said it is investigating staff at the legislature, but it has not said who is the subject of the probe or described the investigation as criminal in nature. The special prosecutors have declined comment.

About the Author

Michelle Ghoussoub

@MichelleGhsoub

Michelle Ghoussoub is a journalist with CBC News in Vancouver. She has previously reported in Lebanon and Chile. Reach her at michelle.ghoussoub@cbc.ca or on Twitter @MichelleGhsoub.

With files from the Canadian Press and Yvette Brend