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$400K vanishes from public service union's coffers

A union representing public service professionals across Canada, including economists, statisticians and civilian employees of the RCMP, is trying to figure out how $400,000 was apparently siphoned from its bank accounts over the course of nearly a decade.

Money siphoned over 8 years through fraudulent e-transfers, CAPE suspects

Greg Phillips, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, says his union is co-operating with investigators from the Ottawa Police Service's fraud unit. Ottawa police would not confirm an investigation to CBC News. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

A union representing public service professionals across Canada, including economists, statisticians and civilian employees of the RCMP, is trying to figure out how $400,000 was apparently siphoned from its bank accounts over the course of nearly a decade without anyone's knowledge.

Sources tell CBC News one employee has been fired from the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) in relation to an internal investigation, though the union said several employees were investigated.

I'm shocked. I'm disgusted.- Judy Everson, CAPE member

The union notified Ottawa police more than a year ago about the alleged misappropriation of funds, but never made it public.

That's outraged some union members who only found out about the fraud investigation from CBC News. 

"I'm sure many members don't know about this," said Judy Everson, who works at Statistics Canada. "I'm shocked. I'm disgusted. Do I have a trust in the union? Any faith in the union? Respect for the union? I think that's just gone down the drain for me. Unbelievable. The worst of it is, it's been going on not for months, but years."

CAPE president Greg Phillips said the union has been as transparent as it could have been.

Union members Judy Everson and Rakesh Manhas say the union could have been more transparent 0:35

"When there are no criminal charges laid, talking about misappropriation of funds … can really blow up into a storm," he said. "We have to be careful with what we say because everybody's innocent until proven guilty."

Tipped off in May 2017

In early May 2017, at least one person tipped off the union's national executive committee about potential financial irregularities, Phillips said.

"Some evidence was brought to our attention. We immediately took action to hire the forensic auditors to look into the matter."

The union said it also went to Ottawa police around the same time, but police would not confirm an investigation to CBC. No one has been charged in relation to the missing money.

The auditor, Deloitte, pored over CAPE's financial records and discovered that in 2017 alone more than $60,000 had been electronically transferred out of the union's main bank account without any supporting documents such as receipts or invoices. 

But that was just the beginning; the auditor found more suspicious e-transfers dating back eight years. 

From 2009 to 2017, between $380,000 and $400,000 disappeared, according to financial statements posted on CAPE's website.
CAPE is the third-largest labour union representing federal public servants, with about 15,000 members including economists, translators, policy analysts, researchers and statisticians. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

"Our members work very hard," Phillips said. "They pay their dues and they put their faith in us to protect their money, and to find out that $400,000 went missing — it's their money. It's really disappointing."

Transfers didn't require approval

Phillips said the missing money may have gone unnoticed for so long because the e-transfers were sporadic over the years. The amounts varied, but were typically in the low four figures.

Unlike cheques, electronic fund transfers at the time did not require approval from a second set of eyes. The e-transfers were used to pay employees their salary, overtime and any severance, Phillips said. 

The checks and balances obviously weren't in place.- Greg Phillips, CAPE president

"The checks and balances obviously weren't in place," he said. "Obviously, not every payment was validated before it went out."

Sources told CBC News an employee was terminated last year after the auditors were brought in. 

Phillips said the union has since instituted new policies, and e-transfers now require the approval of two executives who must use special fobs to generate a password that expires within seconds. 

CAPE now uses fobs like this to generate a one-time password needed to validate e-transfers. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

"What we're told by our financial experts is that it's higher than the average security," Phillips said.

Cost of investigation 'excessive'

Tracking down the problem hasn't been cheap.

The union has spent a "phenomenal amount of money" to investigate the missing money, Phillips admitted. Between Deloitte, lawyers and members of CAPE's national executive committee, it has paid out as much as $200,000. 

"It's an excessive amount of money," Phillips said.

So far, the union has only been able to recover $25,000 of the missing money through its insurance company, so its net loss could approach $600,000.

"It's a terrible situation, there's no sugarcoating that," Phillips said.

Members unaware

Health Canada employee Rakesh Manhas, a CAPE member for nearly 10 years, said he's disappointed.

"To know that much money can go missing without anybody noticing just kind of makes me think how this organization is being run," Manhas said. "I'm certainly not happy that my dues are being siphoned away like that."

'If money is just going missing then I'm a little worried about where my union dues are going to go,' said CAPE member Rakesh Manhas. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

He's one of several union members CBC News spoke with who were unaware of the missing money and ensuing investigation. 

Manhas believes members should have been kept better informed.

Mentioned in budget documents

Members were emailed links to CAPE's financial statements and approved the documents at a budget meeting in November 2017, but a mention of the missing money was buried on the last page of a 20-page report.

Phillips maintains the union has been transparent, and said the forensic audit was only finalized in January. 

But Manhas disagrees.

"Who looks at the 20th page of the financial documents?" Manhas asked. "It should be right on the front page of the home page of the website, and it should be there for everybody to see."

"We had a vote for our budget. Those audited financial statements were available with the vote," Phillips said.

About the Author

Ashley Burke is a video journalist at CBC News Ottawa who files for multiple platforms. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca