Les investigators met Vernon mayor in jail
Published Monday, October 20, 2008 6:42PM PDT
The RCMP investigation into the land deals of B.C.'s former solicitor general has expanded to Vernon, B.C., with officers meeting a disgraced former Vernon mayor in his jail cell, CTV News has learned.
Former Vernon mayor Sean Harvey told two officers in a meeting in the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre that John Les was a "silent partner" in a plan to remove the protections around some agricultural land in the area and pave the way for development.
Harvey -- who resigned after pleading guilty to breach of trust for cheating on his city expense account in 2005 -- wouldn't speak to CTV News on camera, but said he met Les in 2004.
In an e-mail to CTV News, Les said that there was a meeting -- but it had nothing to do with lobbying for anything.
"In regards to the insinuation by Mr. Harvey that I was a 'silent partner' in any land interests in Vernon, that is a completely false allegation," he wrote. "Beyond that, I will not be making any comment."
Les said that he had answered many questions from the media when he first resigned from his post in April, when news of the investigation became public.
In both cases, Les was a director of a numbered company that acquired land within the protected Agricultural Land Reserve and subdivided the land into lucrative housing lots.
Harvey said his meeting with Les also included officials with the Chilliwack Cattle Sales company.
The meeting was about removing property near Vernon from the ALR for development, he said. Some of that property was later purchased by numbered companies connected to the Chilliwack Cattle Sales company.
In 2005, numbered companies tied to Chilliwack Cattle Sales sent Vernon councillors cheques worth $99. Cheques worth more than $100 must be declared as campaign contributions.
The cheques didn't sit right with Vernon City Councillor Barry Beardsell.
"Oh gosh, I'm retired now, but I was an accountant and something like that rings alarm bells all over the place," said Beardsell.
Chilliwack Cattle Sales also did business with John Les when it bought a large farm property, subdivided it, and sold an eight-acre property with three houses on it to John Les.
The agency that guards protected farmland, the Agricultural Land Commission, is investigating whether that deal conformed to provincial regulations that say anything within the Agricultural Land Reserve must be used for farming.
And Les has a family connection to the company as well -- his daughter Sharon is married to Chilliwack Cattle Sales director Ken Kooyman's son.
The company says that everything that it has done is legal.
"Accusations about what this company has done are absolutely not true. It's all straight, above-board stuff," said one manager, Jeff, who didn't want to give his last name.
Meanwhile, Les's political life has been disrupted for six months and he remains outside of cabinet. Police say they have laid no charges, and won't give a deadline for when charges could possibly be laid.
"These investigations do take time," said Const. Annie Linteau. "It's important that they are conducted well and I do ask for the public's patience."
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Kent Molgat and Jon Woodward