Former clerk charged in B.C. legislature spending scandal
Published Friday, December 18, 2020 11:10AM PST Last Updated Friday, December 18, 2020 6:24PM PST
VANCOUVER -- More than two years after explosive allegations of gross misspending of taxpayer dollars, the former clerk of the B.C. legislature has been criminally charged.
Craig James, formerly the most senior bureaucrat in Victoria, is facing a series of charges, including four counts of breach of trust by a public officer and two counts of fraud over $5,000.
The BC Prosecution Service made the announcement Friday, following a lengthy investigation headed by two special prosecutors.
The charges come more than two years after James, and former sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, were initially suspended from their high-paying positions and escorted by Victoria police off the legislature grounds in November 2018. That incident came following a report by Speaker Darryl Plecas.
The report alleged James and Lenz misspent thousands of taxpayer dollars on lavish trips, clothing and expenses unrelated to their work at the legislature. One of the accusations was that James purchased a $3,000 wood-splitter that he kept at his private home. Another involved thousands of dollars of taxpayer-purchased alcohol loaded onto a truck and taken off the legislature grounds.
In May 2019, a second report by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin found that James violated four out of five areas of his employment, and engaged in misconduct. She cited the purchase of expensive suits and luggage for personal use, the removal of alcohol from the legislature, and the personal use of the wood-splitter as examples. McLachlin also found James engaged in wrongdoing by accepting a $257,988 payout from a retirement benefit in 2012, despite the fact he never retired.
James has long denied any wrongdoing, but resigned immediately following the release of the McLachlin report.
"I have had enough,” he wrote in a statement at the time. “I have been publicly ridiculed and vilified. My family has been deeply hurt and continues to suffer humiliation. In an effort to put an end to that, I have decided to retire and reach a settlement with the legislative assembly."
The criminal charges are the result of an investigation launched by Plecas and his chief of staff, Alan Mullen.
In an exclusive interview with CTV News at Six anchor Scott Roberts in February 2019, Plecas and Mullen were adamant that bureaucrats and elected officials should face charges.
"How could all of this go on without elected officials knowing? That's just not possible," Plecas told CTV News at the time. "Elected officials absolutely had to know what was going and they did nothing about it."
"Given what I've seen over the past over a year, yeah, there's people going to jail," Mullen said during the interview.
The RCMP has so far not charged Lenz.
McLachlin’s 2019 report cleared Lenz of wrongdoing. But a subsequent investigation by former Vancouver Police Department deputy chief Doug LePard found that Lenz lied to McLachlin on multiple occasions during her probe, engaging in "discreditable conduct."
"I find that SAA Lenz's false oral and written statements to Justice McLachlin constitute misconduct that is at the most serious end of the range of misconduct under the Police Act," LePard wrote in the report.
Lenz also resigned from his high-salary position in 2019, but denied any wrongdoing.
“I have carried out my duties for the people of British Columbia with the utmost integrity and am proud of the many initiatives that have been put in place during my time as sergeant-at-arms,” Lenz wrote at the time.
“However, I no longer believe that I can continue to work for the legislative assembly of British Columbia. After considerable reflection, I have concluded that the damage that has been done to my reputation will never be fully repaired, and that if I continued as sergeant-at-arms, I would be doing a disservice to my office.”