Calgary

Alberta RCMP investigating whether donors to UCP 'kamikaze' campaign were defrauded

The RCMP is investigating the "kamikaze" United Conservative Party leadership campaign of Jeff Callaway for possible fraud, according to a source familiar with the investigation.

Probe focused on those who contributed to campaign believing it was real

Jeff Callaway's campaign for the leadership of Alberta's United Conservative Party after the Progressive Conservatives merged with the Wildrose Party in 2017 is being investigated by the RCMP for possibly defrauding donors. (CBC)

The RCMP is investigating whether a "kamikaze" campaign for the leadership of Alberta's United Conservative Party defrauded donors, according to a source familiar with the investigation. 

The police are investigating Jeff Callaway's 2017 campaign "as being a large fraud committed on a number of people who believed that it was legitimate," according to the source, whom CBC News has agreed not to identify because they are not authorized to speak about the ongoing investigation.

That investigation is being guided by a special prosecutor from Ontario. 

The Calgary-based Callaway ran his campaign in collaboration with that of the race's eventual winner, Jason Kenney, now the premier, in order to attack the latter's main rival, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, before dropping out of the race and endorsing Kenney.

Both men deny the allegations, but CBC News has obtained emails and documents that outline the collaboration, including a resignation speech emailed to Callaway's team from Kenney's then-deputy chief of staff and current director of issues management, Matt Wolf.

Numerous Callaway donors have been visited by RCMP officers, who asked about their contributions and took the receipts, CBC News has confirmed. 

"They just seemed interested in whether I thought my contribution was honest, and I said yes," said Lee Eddy of Innisfail, a community north of Calgary, who was visited by the RCMP in December.

Lee said he donated $500 believing the campaign was real, and doesn't regret it because he did not want Jean to win.

"There's some people that run in an election just so they can voice their concerns, they have no hope of winning," said Eddy. 

"That's what I felt Jeff was doing. I didn't think he was going to win, but he was going to be able to stand up for our rights in the debates and stuff."

The allegations against the campaign appear to fit the definition of fraud — misrepresentation for a benefit — says criminal defence lawyer André Ouellette; adding whether the donors feel they were defrauded doesn't alter that fact. 

But they might not feel like co-operating with prosecutors, he said. 

"Potential witnesses who do not feel victimized or do not feel defrauded may not be inclined to co-operate with the prosecution and may not be inclined to testify against Mr. Callaway," he said.  

"So, in that sense, it may make [the case] more difficult." 

Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Calgary's Mount Royal University, says the investigation won't have a big impact unless charges are laid.

But the allegations are an important issue. 

"We're talking about deliberate fraud — allegations of deliberate fraud, of criminal activity — involving people tied to the current government," said Bratt.

Irregular donations

The Callaway campaign has been under investigation by Alberta's election commissioner and the RCMP for irregular donations funnelled from a corporation into the campaign through fake donors. 

The election commissioner has handed down $176,223 in fines against 11 individuals and two corporations.

Documents outlining the findings of the commissioner say the campaign was largely funded through two corporations controlled by Calgary businessman Robyn Lore.

Lore's lawyer said they have appealed those findings and penalties. Others, including Callaway, are also appealing. 

Commissioner's office closed

Officials are still investigating, but in November the provincial government shuttered the office of the election commissioner and shifted its duties to Elections Alberta. 

The move provoked widespread condemnation, but the government insisted any investigations would continue. 

Elections Alberta says it has retained the investigators looking into the UCP leadership race and that staff continue to work out of their old office space for the time being. 

"How and when to move forward with the commissioner of elections position," will be determined after an evaluation into workload and time commitment is completed, according to deputy chief electoral officer Drew Westwater.  

The role is currently being filled by the head of Elections Alberta, Glen Resler, whose job is up for review on April 16.

The RCMP is also investigating allegations of voter fraud in the UCP leadership race.

CBC News has previously revealed fraudulent emails were used to cast ballots in that contest and has spoken to a volunteer who alleged he phoned UCP members in order to get their PINs and then passed them to other volunteers in order to vote for Kenney. 

​​​​At least five cabinet ministers, three UCP MLAs and Conservative MP Tim Uppal have been questioned as part of that investigation. 

The party insists the vote was clean. 

The UCP declined to comment on the RCMP investigation into potential fraud tied to the Callaway campaign. 

"The UCP is not a party to this matter," said director of communications Evan Menzies in an email. 

"Any questions with respect to Mr. Callaway's leadership campaign, and the donations to that campaign, are best directed to Mr. Callaway."

Callaway's lawyer, former Progressive Conservative justice minister Jonathan Denis, did not respond to a request for comment.

About the Author

Drew Anderson is a web journalist at CBC Calgary. Like almost every journalist working today, he's won a few awards. He's also a third-generation Calgarian. You can follow him on Twitter @drewpanderson. Contact him in confidence at drew.anderson@cbc.ca. Signal contact upon request. CBC Secure Drop: www.cbc.ca/securedrop/

With files from Carolyn Dunn, Allison Dempster, Bryan Labby and Audrey Neveu

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