Hudson’s new council is running out of patience with the province’s anti-corruption police unit.
On Monday evening, Mayor Ed Prévost announced that the town will be sending UPAC investigators a letter requesting an indication of when — and if — they will be revealing the results of their ongoing investigation into allegations of financial mismanagement at town hall. If the response is deemed to be unacceptable, Prévost said, council will consider suing former employees and elected officials in an attempt to recoup funds he believes were misappropriated.
“Our level of patience has reached zero,” Prévost said at the start of Monday’s regular monthly council meeting.
“It’s getting to the point that it is somewhat ridiculous,” he said, referring to the length of the anti-corruption squad’s probe into allegations of fraud.
Prévost refused to name the individuals the town is considering taking legal action against. He would only confirm they could include former employees and elected officials.
“It’s an option we will consider,” he said. “We need to first establish if the individuals have any money.”
Prévost said council has weighed the amount of money it believes has been misappropriated against the possible cost of civil suits. He refused to provide an estimate of the amounts that have gone missing. He would simply describe the figure as “significant dollars.”
Prévost mentioned the possibility of the town launching a civil suit is similar to the city of Laval’s plan announced last week to sue a former director general of Laval en Fleurs, a non-profit organization, as well as the organization itself, its insurers and past members of its administrative council to recoup more than $200,000 it alleges was stolen from taxpayers. Laval Mayor Marc Demers said the suit is the first in a series of court actions aimed at collecting millions of dollars of stolen money, including possibly suing former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt.
Last month was the last time Prévost heard from UPAC investigators, he said. He was told at that time the investigation was progressing “with large strides.” But the question remains, he explained: When would the investigation be concluded?
The first allegations of mismanagement at Hudson town hall surfaced in March 2013, when then-treasurer Sylvain Bernard discovered “administrative errors” had been made in salary deductions at source for its 36 employees. The Canada Revenue Service and Revenue Quebec launched investigations.
This triggered an audit at town hall, which resulted with a complaint being filed with the Sûreté du Québec. The SQ handed the investigation over to UPAC in August 2013.
In June 2013, former mayor Michael Elliott resigned after it was revealed he owed $64,800 in unpaid taxes, penalties and interest. The outstanding bills dated back to 2004. Elliott was one of 315 delinquent taxpayers who owed a total of $1.2 million in outstanding municipal taxes.
In the fall of 2013, another separate investigation was launched by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, which is looking into the town’s $24-million water and sewer infrastructure improvement project. Until that probe is completed, the province is withholding a $6.5-million grant that was intended to cover some of the costs of the project, which began in 2006.
In April, Prévost provided residents with a long list of fraud and mismanagement that, he said, had allegedly continued for years at town hall. The list included the practice of issuing contracts without calling for tenders; how money from infrastructure projects, like the town’s new firehall, was redirected to other projects; and the abuse of expense accounts and privileges.