Opinion Column

Call the cops for Vancouver spending scandal

Leo Knight Prime Time Crime columnist 24 hours (PHOTO SUBMITTED).

By Leo Knight, Law and Order, 24 hours Vancouver

Mark Townsend of the Portland Hotel Society in Vancouver. (FILE PHOTO/24 HOURS)

Mark Townsend of the Portland Hotel Society in Vancouver. (FILE PHOTO/24 HOURS)

The revelations of profligate spending by senior management of the Portland Hotel Society are stunning and not terribly surprising.

Audits by Vancouver Coastal Health and KPMG — on behalf of B.C. Housing — laid bare the hypocrisy of these social do-gooders as they lived like royalty on your money with apparently little oversight from government.

Trips to Europe, Disneyland and on cruises, flying business class, limo rides, staying at pricey hotels — all while hectoring the rest of us about the need to do more for the people of the Downtown Eastside.

PHS is one of the largest of the so-called DTES “poverty pimps,” organizations making good livings off the backs of taxpayers because of the demands of society’s most downtrodden. The Prince of Poverty, the society’s former co-executive director Mark Townsend, would have us believe that this wasn't taxpayer dollars being used, but non-government grants received by PHS. This is a dubious claim because both audits said it was nearly impossible to assess administrative costs and expenses due to a lack of basic documentation, such as receipts.

Townshend would also have us believe that it wasn't senior managers living large on the public teat, but rather "staff" being rewarded for service or given benefits because they didn't get benefits from their employer. The mind boggles.

It's disingenuous in the extreme to tell us that.

One wonders why the government has not asked the RCMP to investigate. Fraud is defined as gaining a benefit by deliberately using deceit.

To ensure a full public accounting, there needs to be a forensic audit done on the PHS books, and not just for the last few years. Such an audit would be painstaking and evidentiary in nature. KPMG said its audit was hampered because it was denied access to such records as Visa receipts.

Townshend and his partner, Liz Evans, operated under contract with VCH and B.C. Housing to provide specific services in a specific manner. The contracts dictated how the money was to be spent right down to quantifying how many staff would work a specific shift.

Spending like royalty is clearly not in the terms of the contracts.

Some receipts were not provided to auditors. The benefit derived by PHS staff members is obvious.

Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for housing, was quoted last week by the Globe and Mail as saying, "We have not come to any conclusion there was fraud. There was bad spending, irresponsible spending, but it isn't criminal to be stupid."

But this is the public’s money and there are too many unanswered questions. Let police investigate, then the Crown can decide if there's a case to be met.

Leo Knight is a former police officer, security expert and host of primetimecrime.com.



Should government officials ask police to investigate the Portland Hotel Society?

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