Via the Hamilton Spectator By Steve Arnold
A former Halton Region official has been charged with fraud, corruption and taking kickbacks in connection with the handling of more than $100 million in construction projects.
The charges against David Ohashi were announced Wednesday morning by Halton police in a news release.
Police said the charges followed a year-long investigation prompted by an anonymous tip last year. The investigation centred on allegations the veteran manager “gained personal benefit between November 2010 and January 2016 by providing confidential information and advantage to contractors that he had personal relationships with.”
Ohashi, 56, of Mississauga, was fired from his $125,000-a-year position as manager of Plant Capital and Engineering in January after 16 years with the region.
He faces charges of fraud under $5,000, use of a forged document, three counts of municipal corruption and three counts of accepting secret commissions.
“Ohashi’s position within the region also permitted him to approve maintenance and/or construction to the region’s infrastructure that was later deemed not necessary or without justification,” the police news release said. “Ohashi also submitted altered business expense claims to the region for personal travel outside of Canada.”
The police charges are allegations only. Nothing has been proven in court.
Det. Const. Keith Nakahara, of the Halton police fraud bureau, said in an interview that Ohashi’s position gave him control of construction projects for the region’s sewer and water treatment facilities.
“These were complicated projects that allowed someone to misrepresent details about the contracts,” he said. “He had the chance to create a situation where companies he wanted to succeed could win contracts.
Nakahara said the charges levelled Wednesday concern three large projects valued at more than $100 million. He would not specify the projects because the investigation is continuing into some of the companies involved in those contracts.
Nakahara said the investigation was a complicated affair that included obtaining more than 15 judicial authorizations — basically search warrants — to access banking and other institutional records.
Throughout the course of the probe, he added, Halton region officials co-operated at every stage. Officials also conducted an internal probe that led to Ohashi’s firing on Jan. 21.
Police added “the investigation did not uncover any information that would indicate wrongdoing by any other current or former member of the Region of Halton.”
Halton staff, citing ongoing legal proceedings, refused to elaborate on how an alleged fraud could go on for more than five years without being uncovered.
“Because of the legal proceedings, we are unable to comment on specifics. We have fully cooperated with the police investigation and will continue to do so,” regional spokesperson Stacey Hunter said in an email exchange.
“Halton Region has a rigorous code of conduct and a comprehensive corporate fraud policy. We have a robust program of controls in place to prevent or identify inappropriate behaviour including: a strongly adhered to purchasing bylaw, and related policies and procedures and an internal audit group,” she said. “We are confident we have the systems and oversight in place to protect the taxpayer.”
Regional chair Gary Carr, through the communications staff, refused further comment. Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring, also a regional councillor, similarly refused comment through his staff.
In a telephone interview, planning and public works committee chair Colin Best said the question of how the alleged frauds went on so long will be covered in a report the committee expects to receive at its Sept. 3 meeting.
Despite the allegations, he said taxpayers can be assured their money is being properly handled.
“That’s why we have our control measures, to ensure that the taxpayer’s interests are protected,” he said.
Ohashi is scheduled to appear in court in Milton on Sept. 13.
Halton police ask that anyone with information relevant to the ongoing investigation call the Regional Fraud Unit at 905-825-4747 ext. 8739. Tips can also be submitted to Crime Stoppers by calling 1-800-222-8477, through haltoncrimestoppers.com or by texting Tip201 with a message to 274637.