Audit finds ‘financial irregularities’ at Winnipeg non-profit, recommends stronger oversight

A Winnipeg-based non-profit says it supports all of the recommendations laid out in a report by Manitoba’s Auditor General, which found “financial irregularities,” improper credit card use and unsupported travel expenses.

The audit request of Main Street Project (MSP) was brought forward by the Minister of Finance and covered a period between January 1, 2015, and March 31, 2019.

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“Through the course of our investigation, we determined there was poor accountability over credit card use and compliance with policies. This happened because the Main Street Project Board had weak oversight over the former Executive Director’s expense claims,” wrote Manitoba’s Auditor General, Tyson Shtykalo, in the report.

“We found that the board of directors did not perform sufficient due diligence prior to filling the Executive Director position, and it did not perform required performance evaluations on the Executive Director.”

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Of the nine allegations outlined in the report, three are listed as “confirmed,” one as “partially substantiated,” and the rest are unsubstantiated.

The auditor general says it examined all of the former executive director’s credit card expenses for that period — totaling $71,220 — and determined $8,128 was unsupported, meaning the expenses either lacked original receipts, descriptions were not provided or complete, or the purpose wasn’t documented.

Read more: Winnipeg’s Main Street Project in urgent need of donations

Specifically, it says they charged $3,125 worth of airline tickets to Toronto, Hamilton and Sudbury, but couldn’t properly substantiate the purposes of those trips. It notes that the person had property in the Sudbury and Toronto areas.

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A further $600 in meal expenses, $700 for bottles of wine, and a $500 cash advance were charged to the former executive director’s credit card and couldn’t properly be explained.

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The report also makes note of “excessive” use of the organization’s credit cards by all employees, totaling $135,365, and says although unexpected program needs will arise, there’s a pattern of using credit cards to pay for operating expenses.

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The auditor general recommends MSP revise its employee credit card policy to establish what are acceptable purchases, when they can be made, and that they go though the proper accounts payable process.

It also found two instances where the former executive director asked that dates on invoices be changed so that they fell within periods allowed for reimbursement.

Those two invoices totaled roughly $42,000.

“In both instances, it is possible that MSP would not have received reimbursement for these invoices because the work was performed outside the dates allowed for by the funder,” the report reads.

An invoice for flooring was also submitted to two separate funders, so MSP ended up being reimbursed twice for the same expense.

The report makes 12 recommendations in total.

Read more: Winnipeg’s Main Street Project using Amazon to ask for donations

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In a release, MSP thanked the Office of the Auditor General for its report and said it would be acting on all the recommendations.

“We strongly support all of the recommendations contained in the Auditor General’s report and we have already implemented, or are in the process of implementing, all of the audit recommendations,” MSP Board Chair Vince Warden wrote in the release.

“In fact, MSP has gone beyond the recommendations in the report and has undertaken a comprehensive risk review to ensure that it is complying with best practices in every aspect of its operations.”

MSP’s former executive director, Rick Lees, is not named in the report.

Lees left his post abruptly in July 2020, around the time Global News learned of the audit. However, an MSP executive told Global News at the time the audit and Lees’ departure were unrelated.

–With files from Elisha Dacey and Richard Cloutier

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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