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Accusations of lavish spending, inappropriate cash payouts among reasons for removal of top BC officials

Last Updated Jan 22, 2019 at 11:13 am PDT

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – The list is long in the House Speaker’s report detailing allegations of out-of-control spending from the clerk and sergeant-at-arms offices. Those officials, Craig James and Gary Lenz, are now suspended and under police investigation.

The dollar value is high:

“It would be in the millions of dollars,” said Darryl Plecas’ special advisor Allan Mullen, who told reporters that’s the total for questionable employer benefits. And there’s more:

“Expensing all manner of personal expenses to the legislative assembly totalling tens of thousands of dollars over a period of less than two years. And if we went back even further, oh boy,” said Mullen.

The all-party management committee that approved the release of the report is calling for full audits of the two offices, a review of workplace treatment at the legislature and letters from the suspended officers.

Though the Speaker says these are not just allegations, none have been proven in court and no charges have been laid.

In the report, Plecas said he has seen or has been told of “flagrant overspending” on overseas trips for “questionable” business purposes, as well as personal expenses and inappropriate cash payouts in lieu of vacation to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“In the months after I became Speaker, I learned of a number of allegations and personally observed or was party to numerous conversations or activities, which made me deeply uncomfortable with the conduct of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly and the Sergeant-at-Arms,” reads the report.

Plecas lists the following as activity he has observed and/or been informed of:

  • flagrant overspending on luxurious trips overseas with questionable business rationales
  • expensing of all manner of personal purchases to the Legislative Assembly, totalling tens of thousands of dollars over a period of less than two years
  • inappropriate payouts of cash in lieu of vacation, which appear to total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars
  • lack of oversight or appropriate protocols in the awarding of employment benefits, and evidence of attempts to obtain highly questionable further benefits, collectively representing actual or contingent liabilities to the Legislative Assembly totalling in the millions of dollars
  • using working time to make day or overnight trips away from the Legislative Assembly, at the Legislative Assembly’s expense, for what appear to be other than legitimate work purposes;
  • instances where thousands of dollars of alcohol and equipment may have been misappropriated from the Legislative Assembly
  • various concerns relating to management of employees, including potentially retributive or otherwise unjustified terminations
    taking steps to conceal information which could indicate improperly claimed expenditures.

Trip to the UK

In the report, Plecas shared some details about his account of an overseas trip that was planned a few weeks into his first session.

He said James told him that the two of them and Lenz “needed to go to the United Kingdom for various meetings, including one with MI5 (the UK’s Security Service), as well as to procure an official Speaker’s hat for me. He told me that his office was arranging everything.”

He said that 10-day trip took place in early December. “We left on a Friday and landed in London on Saturday morning, with our first meeting apparently scheduled for Sunday, but shortly after we arrived, I was told by Mr. James that something had happened such that there was no meeting on Sunday, so we had the weekend free.”

Plecas noted they were booked into the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, “a very expensive hotel across the river from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.”

He said over the next few days, all of the meetings “seemed to be of a ‘meet-and-greet’, introductory nature.”

“On Monday, December 4, we met with a gentleman that Mr. James and Mr. Lenz knew from MI5. The meeting lasted less than an hour and did not seem to me to be the kind of conversation that required an inperson meeting. In the evening, Mr. Lenz and I had dinner at the Royal Air Force Club with a retired MI5 member and his wife, and a gentleman from Scotland Yard. The
dinner discussion was purely social.”

Plecas claims Lenz and James had several items bought at an expensive store shipped back to Victoria for them.

“I have since confirmed that what Mr. James and Mr. Lenz purchased included a navy-coloured suit and cufflinks, which were in fact expensed to the Legislative Assembly. The suit cost £662.50, or $1,157.26.”

Trip to China

In the report, Plecas also details a trip to China that took place in June, 2018.

“Mr. James, Deputy Speaker Raj Chouhan and I flew to Hong Kong from Vancouver and visited that city and also the Chinese cities of Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Dongguan which are clustered to the north of Hong Kong in Guangdong Province.”

He said the purpose of the trip was to sign a letter of intent to conduct goodwill exhanges between the B.C. legislature and the Standing Committee of Guangdong Provincial People’s Congress.

Plecas claims at the Hong Kong Airport, James disappeared for awhile “and returned with a large piece of expensive-looking luggage.”

“He then opened the luggage bag that he had brought with him, took out a t-shirt and put it in the new piece of luggage, zipped it up and checked it onto the flight. As discussed below, he later claimed the luggage from the Hong Kong airport as an expense to be reimbursed from the Legislative Assembly. It cost $1,138.34.9”

Second trip to the UK

In the report, Plecas also detailed a second trip to the UK, saying there were “two events worthy of note” that happened in London.

Plecas said both he and James bought the same suit from Ede & Ravenscroft. “They each cost approximately $1,000. I paid for my suit separately. When Mr. James was at the till, Mr. Lenz was there as well and he quipped to Mr. James, ‘part of the uniform.'”

“After we left the store, Mr. James said to me that I should provide him with the receipt because they would claim the suits as part of the Legislative Assembly budget for “uniforms”, which they were plainly not. I said that I would be paying for mine,” he added.

He claims James encouraged him to submit his receipts twice after returning home, but he refused.

“I have since reviewed the expense claims and see that Mr. James claimed his suit as an expense and also wrote on the receipt that the suit he purchased was black rather than grey,
presumably to support a claim that it was part of his Legislative Assembly attire (which is a gown, vest, black-striped or grey-pinstriped pants, and tabs; not a suit),” Plecas claimed.

Plecas said in the second “event worthy of note,” he, James and Lenz were looking at watches in a gift shop.

“I was looking at the watches with Mr. Lenz and commented, ‘those are nice watches,’ and he replied to me wryly, ‘part of the uniform.’ Mr. James and Mr. Lenz purchased some items from the
store, but I didn’t see what they were. After we returned to British Columbia, I found an attractive watch on my desk that said “House of Commons” on it, which was clearly from the gift store at Westminster. I did not ask for this “gift”, nor did I ask, or permit, Mr. James to claim for reimbursement for the expense of this watch, which it appears he did,” he claimed.

“I believed that there was a real possibility that crimes may have been committed and I felt obligated to bring those matters to the attention of the RCMP,” Plecas said in the report.

Wood splitter and trailer

In the report, Plecas also claims to have received information about a wood-splitter and work/tools trailer that were bought by the Legislative Assembly but never arrived on site.

Instead, Plecas says the items arrived at James’ home where he and Lenz had allegedly been using them for personal use.

The equipment is said to have cost more than $13,000. The RCMP has since taken possession of the wood splitter.

“From the Speaker’s inquiries, he understands the justification for the Legislative Assembly purchasing the wood-splitter was that if a crisis situation befell the Legislative Assembly and if in the course of that crisis a tree fell on the Legislature grounds, there could be a need to split the tree up for firewood for use at the Legislature,” Plecas claimed.

Plecas says regardless of whether criminal charges are laid, ” the Legislative Assembly needs to review and consider these matters, and determine whether it is more likely than not that conduct has taken place that is inconsistent with the duties of those involved and the reasonable expectations of the Legislative Assembly.”

“The Legislative Assembly and its administrators must consider whether workplace discipline is warranted, and whether changes need to be made,” he added.

Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and clerk of the Legislature Craig James have been suspended since November, pending a criminal investigation.

Before Monday’s all-party meeting of the management meeting was taken in camera, Plecas said there are two legal opinions connected to the report.

Liberal committee members Mary Polak and Jackie Tegart opposed closing the doors, saying the report could be discussed publicly without impacting an ongoing police investigation.

RELATED: Democracy Watch calls for more transparency on B.C. legislature investigation

He’s fighting back against criticism of his handling of the suspensions and ongoing, mysterious criminal investigations.

“I am completely confident — completely confident that those audits will show that we have a lot of work to do here,” Plecas said.

When the same committee met last December, Plecas said he would resign his position as Speaker if the public is not outraged over his findings of unspecified allegations at the legislature.

“If the outcome of those audits did not outrage the public, did not outrage taxpayers, did not make them throw up, I will resign as Speaker, and Mr. Mullen will resign as well,” Plecas said in December.

RELATED: Criminal investigation linked to sudden paid leave for two key B.C. legislature officials

The Speaker has been criticized for mystery surrounding the suspensions, as well as the investigations both James and Lenz appear to be caught up in.

Read the full report:

Speaker's Report to LAMC