Yukon’s Department of Health and Social Services won’t release an audit that confirmed misappropriation of funds at a Watson Lake shelter in 2014.
The department contracted an independent consultant to conduct a forensic financial investigation following allegations of misappropriation of funds by the Help and Hope for Families Society between April 2013 and September 2014.
“The consultants’ report was not intended for general circulation or publication and we will not be providing a copy,” wrote Patricia Living, spokesperson for the department, in an email to the News.
The department confirmed funds were misappropriated, but also noted that the shelter implemented recommendations made following the investigation.
“The department has met with Help and Hope for Families Society and is happy with the steps taken to address concerns raised in 2014,” Living wrote. “We are in regular contact to monitor progress and we continue to fund this very important service in Watson Lake.”
The health department gives the shelter about $492,000 every year to provide services for women and children fleeing abusive relationships. The shelter also runs a 24-hour crisis line.
The News asked the department whether the misappropriated money had been repaid but didn’t get an answer by press time.
The department didn’t say whether it was standard practice to not release audits of publicly funded organizations. Nor did it detail which transactions were flagged as misappropriation of funds.
Living said the recommendations from the consultant ranged from restricting use of credit cards, establishing spending limits and spending authority, as well as establishing expenditure budgets.
In Nov. 2014 the News reported on allegations of misappropriation after a shelter board member came forward.
Elisabeth Lexow raised concerns over charges on the society’s credit card for airline tickets, a sofa that may have ended up at a staff member’s home and a trip to a hair salon.
Lexow was voted off the society’s board in 2014 after she raised those concerns internally.
She also told the News at the time that the society’s bookkeeper and office manager were fired shortly after raising similar concerns.
In a 2014 letter to the Yukon registrar of societies, the shelter acknowledged it made honest mistakes but denied deliberately misspent any funds.
Despite repeated orders by the registrar to let Lexow look at financial records, the society refused. It took a court order from Yukon Supreme Court to allow Lexow a look at the records.
Disputed credit card charges included the purchase of WestJet tickets to Saskatoon in July 2014 for nearly $1,800 for the society’s former president, Olive Cochrane, and her son.
Cochrane justified the expense at the time as a “gift and gesture of support” from the society after Cochrane lost her sister.
The society bought three sofas for over $1,200 in May 2014. One of the sofas may have ended up at former executive director Caron Statham’s home. Cochrane said at the time a mixup resulted in the third sofa charged on the wrong credit card and said Statham was going to pay back the cost of the sofa.
Finally there was a $178 charge at a Whitehorse hair salon which Cochrane described as a simple mistake.
Most of the shelter’s board and staff are new since 2014.
Board members said they needed time to get caught up on the shelter’s past financial issues and could not immediately comment for this story.
Contact Pierre Chauvin at email@example.com