Former FNUC official pleads guilty to fraud

A former top official with the First Nations University of Canada has pleaded guilty to defrauding the government of Canada of thousands of dollars.

A former top official with First Nations University of Canada has pleaded guilty to defrauding the government of Canada of thousands of dollars.

Wesley Robert Stevenson, 60,  entered the plea Thursday in Court of Queen's Bench in Regina.

Court heard that the fraud occurred between January 2005 and March 2005. 

According to a statement of facts agreed to by the Crown and the defence, Stevenson used $15,000 earmarked for an FNUC trip to Scotland's Orkney Islands to pay for expenses that had nothing to do with the Orkney trip.

The September, 2004, trip came about largely due to the efforts of Stevenson, court heard. FNUC received an invitation from the Orkney Coming Home Committee to have a group of First Nations people travel to the Scottish islands for a cultural exchange.

The idea was to celebrate the historical connections between the First Nations people and Orkney Islands residents. Ancestors of island residents were many of the people who joined the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada. 

Some of the money for the trip came from the federal government, which was originally told the Orkney trip ran a deficit because of "overexpenditures."

At the time, Stevenson was vice-president of finance and administration at the Regina-based university.

Working holiday

Court heard he spent some of the misappropriated money on a working holiday for himself and on other unrelated expenses for other First Nations University employees.

After the Orkney trip, Stevenson had $7,236 paid to himself, characterizing the payment as "coordinator's fees."

Court heard he has already made full restitution of the $15,000, which the Crown said is an indication of remorse.

A defence lawyer pointed to the fact that Stevenson has no prior criminal record.

Justice Ellen Gunn gave Stevenson a 12-month, non-jail conditional sentence. In addition to restitution, Stevenson has agreed to perform 75 hours of community service. 

Gunn said an aggravating factor is that Stevenson was in a position of trust.

Mitigating factors included the guilty plea and the fact that he is a contributing member of society, she said. 

The sentence will leave Stevenson with a criminal record.

Stevenson was suspended and later fired by the university in 2005 for alleged financial misappropriation. He later sued the university for wrongful dismissal.

Outside court Thursday, Stevenson said the issue has defined his life for the last six years.

"You go to bed with it, you wake up with it. You have good days and bad days, but it's always there," he said. "Thank God for medication and professionals help through all of this and my family."

Court heard Stevenson now works in B.C. as a family counsellor.

Board, FSIN responds

On Thursday afternoon, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations issued a news release saying the current board of FNUC will implement policies to guard against fraud.

"I look forward to working with incoming FNUC President Doyle Anderson to implement those sound policies and procedures," Della Anaquod, the chair of the board, was quoted as saying.

Guy Lonechild, chief of the FSIN, added that the school is working on improved operations.

"The First Nations University of Canada is on a road to better governance, transparent and accountable operations," Lonechild said.

The news release did not elaborate on what measures would be put in place, but Lonechild noted that the university's board "will examine ways to strengthening and providing a more accountable and transparent institution ultimately leading to a more certain future for students, faculty and staff."