Blue Line

Former Ontario Provincial Police union leaders on trial for fraud

September 26, 2019  By The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Three leaders of Ontario’s provincial police union set up a scheme that used a travel company and consulting firm to defraud union members, prosecutors told the group’s trial Tuesday.

Crown lawyers told a Toronto court that three senior officials of the Ontario Provincial Police Association and two others purchased a travel company together in 2014 and it quickly became the union’s sole travel booker.

In his opening statement, prosecutor David Friesen said Karl Walsh, James Christie and Martin Bain used their high-ranking positions in the union to channel business to the company, called First Response Travel Group.

The company initially focused on booking leisure travel for officers on vacation but by late 2014, it was responsible for the union’s corporate travel arrangements, a service that had previously been provided by the company Flight Centre, Friesen told the court.

Walsh cancelled the contract with Flight Centre in November 2014 and the switch was announced to the union’s support staff by email a few days later, the lawyer said.

The three did not disclose their role in the company to the union’s board of directors, Friesen said. “Members of the board will testify that this was a conflict of interest, which should have been brought to their attention,” he said.

“All five accused men worked together to hide or conceal the truth about what they were doing,” he added.

A woman brought on to run the travel company, Klara Kozak, appeared to own all its shares but in fact held most of them in trust for the accused, Friesen told the jury.

Kozak owned 18 of the company’s 196 shares, he said, while Walsh owned 46 and Christie and Bain each owned 26. The two other accused, Andrew McKay and Francis Chantiam, each had 40.

The Crown also alleges the group set up a consulting firm that was hired by the union, and that Walsh, Christie and Bain used money paid to the firm to purchase some of their shares in the travel company.

Each share was valued at $1,000, and together, the three owned $98,000 worth, Friesen said. But they only paid $68,000 from their personal funds, the lawyer said.

Meanwhile, the firm — called PIN Consulting Group — entered into a contract with the OPPA that would see it receive $5,000 plus tax a month for six months, he said. That money was used to cover the remaining $30,000, he argued.

McKay, a lawyer who often worked with the union, was the firm’s sole director and the one who signed off on transactions, Friesen said.

At the time, Christie was the union’s CEO, Walsh was its chief administrative officer and Bain was vice-president, the Crown said. The union has said they no longer hold those positions.

Chantiam, meanwhile, was an American businessman with experience in travel.

All five have pleaded not guilty to fraud over $5,000.

Court heard Tuesday from Kozak, who said a friend reached out to her on Chantiam’s behalf in early 2014. Kozak said she was told Chantiam and others were looking to set up a travel agency to serve first responders.

“The idea was that I would be the person running the agency, managing it, and they would be in the background,” she testified.

While she initially believed the OPPA would be part owner of the company, her understanding of that changed over time, Kozak said.

Walsh was the one who told her the union wanted to stop working with Flight Centre and switch to the agency, she said.

– Paola Loriggio

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2019

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