By Herald on December 22, 2020.
The Lethbridge Police Service will not be laying charges against ARCHES after its forensic investigation of the former supervised consumption site operator accounted for $1.5 million in provincial funding dollars previously unaccounted for in the July audit of the organization.
Chief of Police Shahin Mehdizadeh told reporters on Tuesday with the money now accounted for there was no basis to lay any charges at this time.
“The Alberta Specialized Prosecution Branch supported the findings of the Lethbridge police investigation,” Mehdizadeh read out in a prepared statement, “and determined it would not recommend criminal charges as there wasn’t a likelihood of conviction, and prosecution would not be in the public interest.”
Mehdizadeh said the decision not to lay criminal charges comes after a “lengthy” and “comprehensive” investigation.
“The Lethbridge Police Service was able to uncover the records which account for funding in question,” he continued. “The findings have been shared with the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, which concludes the involvement of the Lethbridge Police Service in the matter.”
A report by accounting firm Deloitte commissioned by the province said $13,000 had been used for parties, staff retreats and gift cards, and thousands more was spent on travel, including $4,300 for a manager to attend a conference in Portugal.
It also said $1.6 million was unaccounted for at the non-profit organization which oversaw the supervised consumption site.
Acting Inspector Pete Christos of the LPS Criminal Investigation Division added a few more details to Mehdizadeh’s statement.
Christos said the LPS investigation was able to access financial records which were not available to auditors at the time when they initially raised concerns about the $1.5 million in missing funds.
“It was initially thought there was an inappropriate use of funds which were misallocated,” he said, “but through our investigation we found that, in fact, those funds were located.”
ARCHES had the money in different accounts the auditors did not have access to in their investigation, Christos later clarified, but once staff of the former supervised consumption site sat down with LPS investigators they were able to fully account for the provincial money.
“These were official ARCHES accounts,” he confirmed, but did not want to comment when asked by reporters about the alleged disorganized accounting processes identified by the auditors at the former SCS.
“I don’t feel it is my position to comment on their practices,” he stated, “however; through our investigation, I can tell you all money has been accounted for.”
The province says it still has concerns and won’t be restoring funding.
Kassandra Kitz, press secretary for the ministry’s associate minister, Jason Luan, said the government doesn’t yet have the police report.
She added the Deloitte audit found poor organizational management and several instances of non-compliance with a grant agreement, “including high executive salaries, significant abuse of taxpayer dollars, European conferences, and staff entertainment.”
Premier Jason Kenney said the government has no intention of restoring funding to ARCHES.
In addition to serious questions about its operations and staff salaries, some Lethbridge residents have talked about damage the centre has caused to the community, Kenney said.
“We think that management lost public confidence and certainly the confidence of government.”
A quarterly surveillance report from Alberta Health showed a monthly average of 439 clients made more than 60,000 visits to the Lethbridge site in the first three months of this year.
A report commissioned by the Alberta government released last March suggested supervised drug consumption sites have sown chaos in communities, overplayed their life-saving effects and lacked accountability.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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