Victoria MLA Rob Fleming's ex-constituency worker charged with fraud, theft

A special prosecutor has approved fraud, theft and forgery charges against a former constituency worker for Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming.

Marnie Ruth Offman is to appear in Victoria provincial court today. She is charged with defrauding Fleming’s constituency office of money in excess of $5,000, theft over $5,000 and uttering forged cheques.

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The offences are alleged to have occurred between March 24, 2009 and Nov. 28, 2015.

Dirk Ryneveld was named special prosecutor on June 8 to avoid any real or perceived improper influence in the administration of justice, because the case involves a political office.

Fleming issued a statement Tuesday night saying a former employee at his constituency office would be charged with theft and forgery.

“I made a complaint to the Victoria Police Department after making the shocking discovery that funds were missing from my office,” Fleming wrote.

“This has been a very disturbing matter for me because it involves someone I worked closely with. Constituency office employees have the trust of the MLA and the community they serve so it is gravely disappointing to have that trust violated.”

Police are probing the financial records of Fleming’s constituency office after officials at the legislature and in Fleming’s office noted missing financial records and accounting discrepancies involving expense cheques over several years.

The Criminal Justice Branch appointed Ryneveld, a Victoria lawyer and former police complaint commissioner, as a special prosecutor to oversee the probe, giving independent oversight to the politically sensitive police investigation.

The police probe is not believed to centre on alleged wrongdoing by Fleming, a three-term MLA who is the Opposition NDP’s education critic. Instead, the concern appears be whether cheques for publicly paid expenses were approved by Fleming but later changed to larger amounts before being cashed.

The legislature provides about $119,000 a year to each MLA for constituency office expenses, to pay staff, buy office supplies, travel, organize special events in their riding and communicate with constituents through flyers and advertisements.

Fleming billed $124,514 between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016, according to legislature records.

Neighbouring Victoria-Beacon Hill NDP MLA Carole James spent $115,308 that year, and nearby Oak Bay-Gordon Head Green MLA Andrew Weaver spent $114,226.

The alleged financial problems at Fleming’s office highlights long-known lax financial controls over the more than $9.5 million taxpayers spend annually on constituency offices for 85 provincial politicians. MLAs don’t require independent legislative approval for most expenses, nor do they have to share with provincial financial officials how much unspent public money remains in their constituency bank accounts.

Legislative officials have urged MLAs to cede control of their finances to increase transparency and accountability of political expenses.

Reforms began in 2012 when then-auditor-general John Doyle slammed the legislative assembly for sloppy bookkeeping on its nearly $70-million annual budget. That led to widespread reform in the capital building, including annual audited financial statements, open meetings, quarterly spending updates and an agreement from MLAs to publish more detail about their travel, food and living expenses.

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