News

Park board defrauded of almost $10,500 by former manager

A former Cultus Lake Park employee was sentenced in a fraud and forgery case on May 1, 2014. - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE
A former Cultus Lake Park employee was sentenced in a fraud and forgery case on May 1, 2014.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE

Cultus Lake Park Board didn't find any unauthorized financial transactions when it went looking for them last summer — despite a "thorough" internal review of accounts and investments.

But a forensic audit completed by external professionals did uncover evidence of fraud over $5,000.

The paper trail showed that a former employee at Cultus Lake diverted a total of $10,447.59 in HST funds from CLPB to a trust account he managed.

Siamak Saidi, former manager of financial services for CLPB, pleaded guilty in Vancouver provincial court to one count of forgery, and two counts of fraud.

Saidi, 55, was accused of defrauding both Simon Fraser University (SFU) and Cultus Lake Park Board (CLPB).

He was sentenced to six years in jail, with credit for one year of time already served.

During his time at Cultus Lake Park, he misrepresented his qualifications by attaching the chartered management accountant (CMA) designation to his name on official correspondence, despite the fact that he had not earned the right to do so.

Correspondence sent out by Saidi on behalf of the CLPB indicated he was chartered accountant (CA), as well as chartered management accountant (CMA).

But Chartered Management Accountants B.C. spokesman Rick Lightheart told The Progress last September that Saidi was never qualified to use the designation of CMA.

"When I was advised that this individual was using the CMA designation, I wrote him a cease and desist letter in late August," said Lightheart.

The letter pointed out that the use of the CMA designation is protected by provincial statute, and only to be used by certified members of the CMABC society.

Saidi was only a student member from 2001-02, he added.

Saidi was ultimately ordered to pay restitution of $50,000 to SFU and almost $10,500 to the park board.

He had been employed as a chartered accountant for SFU in Burnaby for less than two years and was terminated in a round of restructuring in 2012.

The court documents show Saidi submitted hundreds of false invoices to SFU from companies for which he has been listed as a director. He used the $850,000 in misappropriated funds to purchase properties, and pay for mortgages.

Three properties – in Belcarra, Burnaby and Abbotsford – were listed in the documents. A court order was granted to freeze Saidi's assets, including the three properties, and Saidi was charged in August 2013.

A manager later discovered irregularities in Saidi's record-keeping, according to court documents, but he had already started working in Cultus Lake.

When it first came to light at the lake that the former park board manager had misappropriated funds at SFU, the CLPB put Saidi on forced leave in 2013.

Then shortly after that in September, officials put out a press release that read:

"Siamak Saidi is no longer employed with Cultus Lake Park."

At the time they didn't find anything unusual after an internal search.

"Staff of Cultus Lake Park have completed a thorough review of all accounts and investments.

"No unauthorized financial transactions have been observed," read the statement posted on the CLPB website.

But it was the external audit that ultimately shed light on the truth, say CLPB officials.

"Subsequent to the initial staff review of accounts that occurred around August 22, 2013, external professionals were engaged," said CLPB chair Sacha Peter in a release Monday.

"The result of the forensic analysis that led to the charge of fraud over $5,000 indicated that a refund claim for Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) had been diverted into a trust account controlled by Saidi.

"This amount, to the knowledge of the CLPB, has been fully recovered by the Canada Revenue Agency.

-- with files from Vikki Hopes of The Abbotsford News

* This version has been modified from the original with corrections about the charges and documents.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

Twitter.com/chwkjourno

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