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Housing bill shoots to $695K missing from books

Kim Diabo, Tammy Whitebean and Rickey Diabo are holding their receipts and continue to wait for their case to be settled, as the Housing Department investigation found that almost $700,000 is missing from its books. (file photo)

The final housing assessment report was released last Friday with many community members asking the same question; how did we go from $145,000 to $695,000 missing in a matter of months?

The Eastern Door contacted the Mohawk Council’s executive financial officer Paul Rice and general manager of Housing Davis Montour.

“The Housing Department became aware of fraudulent activity within the department, where senior management decided for myself, the executive financial officer, to assume oversight and to conduct an assessment on the situation, which we began doing in July of 2018,” said Rice.

“Essentially what we discovered over time and why it took so long was the department itself didn’t have access to staff, one was terminated, and two were on leave, so there wasn’t much available information.”

Montour explained that he was put on board as interim general manager in the summer due to the staff changes at the time.

“I was put from Human Resources to the general manager of Operations, so I came in when certain things were in progress. My mandate at the time was to keep things running, and try to maintain operations,” said Montour.

Rice said he and his team had set out four main objectives to handle this issue.

“Our objectives were to reconcile the client’s accounts and to contact all the clients in the Housing Department to understand their experiences.

Our third and fourth objective was regarding the financial aspect of the scenario and how we wanted to do a thorough evaluation on what had occurred from 2008 to present.”

These evaluations have been ongoing since the fiasco went public last summer.

“What we did was an operational review of how the Housing Department was conducting business and a lot of that info went into what is now the restructured Housing Department,” said Rice.

Rice further explained how they are still in the process of the reconciliation of all accounts.

Montour and Diabo explained how efforts were made in contacting all the clients, though phone, email, and mail.

“We also sent out statements for contact information, so people had all the updated information, we had clients come forward not only for the fraud, but for why they were not contacted on receiving letters, and other issues.

“I’m not saying this in a negative way, but this was on management who wasn’t applying a quality of service and level of information,” he said.

The community was shocked to see a massive increase of $550K from September 2018 to date.

The recent news has affected many victims in this scandal, with some demanding answers.

The Eastern Door has been in contact with Kim Diabo from the beginning, who has at least $45,000 in receipts to what she supposedly owed.

“I had met with an investigator back in the fall to sign my affidavit, and I can account the $45,000 for my payments on my house from 2000-2019,” said Diabo.

“I’m still waiting for more information, all I know is that my affidavit was to be submitted before the fiscal year (March 31, 2019) and I’m still waiting to hear on where my account is.”

Diabo also explained that she was left in the dark from October-January regarding an update from the department or the investigators.

“We were thinking of the worst, and I left multiple messages, and I received a call from MCK’s lawyer Stacey Douglass, who said she wanted more information from me,” she said.

Diabo said Douglass wanted her to sign an affidavit again, to which Diabo felt suspicious as to why she (Douglass) wanted that information.

“We were confused on why we are talking to a different representative of MCK,” she said. “We weren’t notified that a new investigator was hired, so I automatically became suspicious and was hesitant to give my information.”

Rice explained to The Eastern Door and Diabo that the initial investigator’s contract was up and that a replacement took over.

The original investigator was solely to meet with the clients and produce affidavits. Rice explained with her contract being up; they gathered all the data and provided it to their lawyers.

The final report was months in the making, which has left community members impatient and eager to find out why it took so long to get answers.

“It took much time because we had many clients, (50-60). We didn’t want to do it piece by piece, so we grouped the people based on their experience, and we did our best to communicate with them,” said Rice. “Unfortunately, we often had to respond with ‘that we are still in the process of working on this’ and I think in hindsight we may have been ambitious.”

Another community member who is fed up with the housing issue is Tammy Whitebean, who has also been victimized with ‘owing’ over $10,000.

“When all of this started, a lot of my anxiety came up because I was being threatened with eviction and I had to find my receipts,” she said. “It made me worried if I didn’t find it, where would we go, and how would we manage? We thought it was because of the work not being done in the apartments, we were wondering if that was the reason why they were taking our money,” said Whitebean.

Whitebean explained that there were a half a dozen other issues relating to the housing scandal, including the living conditions in and around her home.

“We have mold, sewage coming up and our kids are always sick. When we asked them (Housing Department) to help, they would always say it’s not in their budget.

“We’re not getting anything done here, they walk around with expensive purses and cars and we are here struggling to feed our families,” she said.

Whitebean explained there is a neighbour’s child who has lung problems and that a health inspector was supposed to arrive. The inspector was meant to come in weeks ago but has yet to stop by.

“They’re ignoring our repairs, our health, and our children’s health and they’re pocketing our money. We can’t believe one of our people would do this,” she said.

“The police can get together and have a drug bust in months but you can’t find out who stole our money? Where’s the arrests? The people deserve the right to know what is going on, not what the new total is; we want to know who is responsible,” she said.

Many community members have told their stories through all forms of media, making this issue well-known, and that the victims are still out there struggling.

“The whole thing has been very stressful, and I had put in $10,000 in 2016. I received it through my mother’s inheritance, and I thought I was doing the responsible thing by putting it on my house,” she said.

“I could’ve put that money towards my house repairs and for my children. The emotional wreck from this was I didn’t expect this to happen, we trust these people, and it was great devastation that our people can do this to one another.”

Diabo also has issues on repairing her house; she said that the Housing Department had denied her for years due to the costly renovations. A total of over $40,000 is needed, with electrical and plumbing.

This is just the tip of the iceberg with dozens and dozens of families also being affected.

The Eastern Door contacted assistant Peacekeeper chief Jodi Diabo for an update on the criminal investigation.

“There is no charge,” she said. “For us we are still in the process of our investigation. It’s a long process from getting the data from the computers, so there is still work on it. Nobody has been charged yet as it’s an open investigation.”

Diabo also added the initial date the investigation was to be completed was September, but expects it to be longer with the information still being gathered.

“Because this is an actual indictable offence, we have time, we have to have everything in order before we lay out the charges,” she said.

“This whole process was a team effort internal and external and that effort to contact the clients was one of the main concerns as to why this has taken so long,” said Rice.

“For example, in our account, we would see the client would owe $20,000, and we would see there are multiple years of non-payments and we would have the client come in and see what had occurred.

“We wanted to base our analysis of the accounts on a series of factors, first being if the clients were in case management, were they making payments to the social housing administrator, did we have receipts in the administrator’s office?”

Rice and his team have also done a trend analysis for the years of 2012-2018 to see if they saw an increase in delinquency.

When the clients came forward after receiving the letter, they went through an interview and agreed to do an affidavit than that would determine if they were part of the fraud.

“This was the best way to handle this, determining what accounts were affected by the fraud. We came in under budget with around $75,000 spent on this investigation,” said Rice.

Last summer The Eastern Door reported the budget of the investigation was an estimated $100,000. Rice and Montour explained that the main reason they were under budget was because the fraud was not as advanced as they initially thought.

As of now, there are a total of 34 affidavits and 40-60 community members. The 40-60 individuals were calculated as the people who have come forward on this matter to tell their story.

“I don’t think it will increase dramatically; we had many people come in to do an interview, those affidavits are getting the individuals to explain what happened, that’s the purpose of putting that out there,” said Rice. “If there is a client who wants to come and tell their story, we are open to talking to them on this issue.”

Although these are tough times for the families, Rice has given some clear clarification on what the future holds for these victims.

“Any client who comes forward and does the process that we’ve laid out, you see it in the trend analysis, we’ll be writing off these fraudulent amounts. We will not hold any clients or community members liable for delinquency amounts that we believe are fraudulent – that is not going to happen,” he said.

“We intend to wipe the slate clean for the clients who have been affected by this; we don’t expect all clients to have their receipts, we just want them to come forward on the process that we’ve laid out.”

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