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Police won’t investigate city on works depot purchase

Durham officers state staff and council actions lacked "transparency," but were not criminal in nature

oshawa city hall (web)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Durham Regional Police Service believes there is no evidence to sustain a criminal investigation against the city in regards to the 2013 purchase of property for a works depot.

DRPS Det. Doris Carriere sat down with The Oshawa Express to discuss the findings of his preliminary review of fraud allegations made against city councillors and staff at the time.

The allegations were made by residents Jeff Davis and Lou DeVuono, Carriere said.

He noted Davis and DeVuono presented a 33-page document they believed contained “sufficient evidence” to warrant a criminal investigation.

The City of Oshawa purchased the property at 199 Wentworth Street East for a new works depot nearly six years ago. The city paid $5.9 million to the previous owner Durham College.

Afterward, then-city auditor general Ron Foster wrote a scathing report claiming the city had overpaid up to $1.5 million for the property and threats had been made against the independence of his office.

The city then hired municipal investigator George Rust-D’Eye to look into Foster’s claims.

In September 2013, Rust-D’Eye stated he found no evidence to back up the assertions made by Foster.

City council soon voted to get rid of the city’s auditor general position.

At that same meeting, a few residents were arrested in council chambers by plain-clothed Durham police officers after protesting council’s actions.

DRPS originally launched an investigation into some of the claims made by Foster in 2013 but concluded the allegations against the city and staff members were unfounded.

However, some viewed the investigation as incomplete as DRPS didn’t receive a full copy of Foster’s report.

Davis, DeVuono and other residents then embarked on a mission to have documents related to the property purchase, including Foster’s scathing report, publicly released.

They also attempted to gain access to the contents of a computer drive given to Rust-D’Eye during his investigative work for the city.

However, city officials initially claimed the drive had been deleted.

The group appealed to the Independent Privacy Commissioner (IPC), who determined the city hadn’t looked hard enough for the drive, or the files contained on it.

The city later provided two affidavits, legal forms that are sworn to be true by an oath, stating the drive couldn’t be found.

The affidavits were signed by the city’s IT manager Steve Patterson and manager of records and information Jason McWilliam, who has since left his position.

These sworn affidavits were part of Davis and DeVuono’s allegations, Carriere said, with the two believing the city employees had committed perjury by signing the documents.

However, Carriere said while the city lacked transparency on the issue, “the wording used did not provide false information and wouldn’t result in an investigation under criminal law.”

In terms of the city hiring Rust-D’Eye as an investigator, Carriere said Davis and DeVuono claimed a number of councillors “conspired to get the city to select George Rust-D’Eye,” and that he received “secret compensation.”

Carriere said the complainants believe this was proven through a series of emails between Rust-D’Eye and the late councillor Nancy Diamond, and with then-city clerk Sandra Krank.

However, Carriere said there was “no credible information” provided to challenge the independence of Rust-D’Eye as an investigator and no proof of collusion between the five councillors who voted for his appointment.

As for the property purchase, Carriere said there were allegations of “collusion between the city manager and president of Durham College.”

However, he said documentation provided by Davis and DeVuono “provided no indication of criminal wrongdoing or that any of the parties benefited personally from this transaction.”

Carriere told The Express the complainants showed “discomfort” with DRPS conducting the investigation because of the arrests at the September 2013 council meeting, and because some of those being accused were either former members of the police service or its board.

With this in mind, DRPS Sgt. Ryan Connolly said he reached out to the OPP’s Anti-Racket Unit for assistance in the review.

“They are the subject matter experts in Ontario for allegations involving municipal corruption,” Connolly said.

In sharing his findings, Carriere said the OPP’s Anti-Racket Unit was in concurrence with his conclusions.

While there were allegations of councillors and staff members conspiring together, the OPP opined there was no evidence of “personal benefit and corroboration from the involved parties.”

Therefore, the allegations do not “stand the test required to launch a criminal investigation.”

Carriere said they also had the information reviewed by Durham Region Crown Attorney Greg O’ Driscoll, who also stated was no need for a criminal investigation.

Connolly said, “while there were some breaches of the Municipal Act committed by the City of Oshawa in and around the time of the allegations, there was nothing criminal at the time.”

Added Carriere, “Allegations brought forward by the complainant were rooted in a conspiracy theory that was fed by the lack of transparency and disclosure of the City of Oshawa.”

Davis and DeVuono responded to the police findings afterward.

Both shared a concern the preliminary review did not include interviews with Foster and the city’s former real estate manager.

“Without such interviews, questions still remain about the completeness of the review as opposed to an investigation,” a media release from Davis and DeVuono reads.

“Parallels can be drawn to the city’s investigation by George Rust-D’Eye, which also failed to interview key witnesses and the DRPS’ 2013 investigation that failed to receive and consider the confidential attachments to [Foster’s 2013 report in regards to the land purchase].

They did note that DRPS’ agreement that there were “infractions to the Municipal Act” is “encouraging and provide a level of vindication for more than five years of efforts through the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to gain transparency at the City of Oshawa.”

Davis and DeVuono vowed to “continue their fight for transparency and accountability in local municipal politics in Oshawa.”

They have filed a Freedom of Information request for a copy of the incident report and summary of findings.