Former Manitoba fire commissioner won't spend time in jail for forgery

A former Manitoba fire commissioner who admitted to spending thousands in provincial funds on personal expenses won't spend time in jail after all.

Chris Jones sentenced to 21 months served in community after pleading guilty to breach of trust

Chris Jones was Manitoba's fire commissioner from 2009 until he was fired in 2011. (CBC)

A former Manitoba fire commissioner who admitted to spending thousands in provincial funds on personal expenses won't spend time in jail after all.

Chris Jones received a 21-month conditional sentence on Monday after pleading guilty to forgery and breach of trust last week. The court ordered he serve his time in the community.

Jones will be subject to a curfew during his sentence, with exceptions that would allow him to work and attend his children's events, among other things.

He must also perform 100 hours of community service and inform any employer of his conviction if he's required to manage any of that employer's finances, Jones's lawyer, Karl Gowenlock, told CBC News.

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

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

In 2013, Manitoba's auditor general found fraudulent activity in the provincial fire commissioner's office over a four-year period, including Jones' fraud. 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.

Last week, the court heard that while Jones was fire commissioner, he was in the middle of a messy divorce and 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. They were still fired for helping their boss defraud the system.

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