Seven city of Port Coquitlam engineering and public works department employees were fired this week and last week for allegedly stealing copper pipes owned by the municipality, The Tri-City News has learned.
The workers, whose length of service ranges from one-and-a-half to 21 years, are accused of taking part in a coordinated theft — an estimated loss to the city of more than $75,000 over the past 10 years.
Each employee is alleged to have received cumulative cash amounts ranging from less than $100 to $10,000.
John Leeburn, PoCo’s chief administrative officer, who is leaving the job at the end of this month, told The Tri-City News Wednesday morning that he fired two employees last Friday and five more were terminated Tuesday for the alleged theft “and some for lack of full disclosure and cooperation during the investigation.”
“The consequence there is that we’ve lost trust in those folks and, once we’ve lost trust, then it’s difficult to continue the employment relationship,” Leeburn said.
He added later: “Nobody came forward to confess.”
None of the seven employees will be granted severance as their terminations are considered just cause, he said.
The dismissals come two months after a former PoCo facility maintenance co-ordinator was sentenced for scamming about $175,000 from the city over a three-year period.
In May, Dean McIntosh received an 18-month conditional sentence order after he pleaded guilty in March to obtaining money over $5,000 by false pretences; he used the city’s credit card and purchasing system to buy tools and small machines, which were later resold via a third party.
McIntosh admitted to his illegal actions when confronted by city managers, apologized and showed them how he committed his crimes. He also reimbursed the city for the full amount.
In this new case, involving the seven unnamed employees, Leeburn said it was “an incredibly co-ordinated, deceptive, covert, longstanding plan” that was executed.
And he said he believes managers were tipped off over the winter as a result of the McIntosh offences and the subsequent council direction last November to ensure theft of taxpayer-funded property doesn’t happen; one of council’s policies included whistleblower protection.
Leeburn said last Friday’s terminations created some angst at city hall and, as a result, he took the unusual step of issuing an email to all city staff to explain the decisions.
“I wanted to let folks know, ‘Look, we’re not firing people willy-nilly or callously or carelessly here,’” he said. “This is a real serious thing. This is not minor… the employer’s response is appropriate to the offence. We’re not acting unreasonably.”
Leeburn said a complaint about the theft allegations will soon be forwarded to Coquitlam RCMP; Cpl. Mike McLaughlin confirmed the detachment has yet to receive a complaint from PoCo city hall.
CUPE Local 498 president Gary Goff, who is employed in the city’s public works department, declined to comment as the matter involving union members remains under investigation.
Asked about the city’s next steps, Leeburn said managers have to rethink different controls and supervisory involvement to prevent future thefts.
“The part that’s so difficult for me is, I’m here a lot and I know how many awesome people are here who are doing great things for the community, and all of that great work is going to get blemished again with another theft story in the press,” Leeburn said. “It’s a shame that the actions of a few are going to tarnish the awesome work of so many good people.
“Now we’ve got to build the place up again in terms of people feeling good about being here and working hard.”