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Fraud charges laid against four former Opaskwayak Education Services (OES) employees

Opaskwayak (June 1, 2020) – The Opaskwayak RCMP laid fraud charges against four former Opaskwayak Education Services (OES) employees on May 20. Marie (Christine) Campbell, Wilfred Harris, Carmen Zolinski, and Anita Ballantyne are accused of defrauding the service of $460K between March 2017 and March 2018. Ballantyne, Campbell, and Harris have been arrested and charged. A warrant for Zaolinski’s arrest is still outstanding.

Opaskwayak RCMP laid charges against four members of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN) after a three-year fraud investigation, according to a press release. The four suspects are accused of defrauding their former employer, Opaskwayak Education Services (OES), of $460,000.

‘A wide variety of financial trickery and deception’

In March 2018, the leadership of the First Nation community located about 625 kilometers north of Winnipeg, noticed ‘discrepancies’ in certain accounts of the OES, according to a statement. Subsequently, they launched an internal investigation and a forensic audit of OES finances. March 27, 2018, the potential fraud was reported to the RCMP. During the three-year investigation, the Mounties and the OES worked closely together.

As a result, the investigation determined that the OES was defrauded of $464,284.45 between March 1, 2017, and March 26, 2018. The police believe that four former OES employees, who were in control of the finance department at the time of the alleged fraud, ‘used their positions of authority within the organization to purposefully commit fraud. By working together and through the use of a wide variety of financial trickery and deception, over $450,000 was siphoned from the OES,’ said Corporal Sheldon Martens of The Pas General Investigative Section.

According to the OCN leadership, the four accused were alleged to have procured funds from various OES accounts and concealed their actions by disguising the funds as loans, improper employment income, and other various payments not authorized by OES. ‘It’s disheartening to think that individuals, including some of our own members, thought it was alright to take money that was meant to further the education of OCN membership, especially our youth,’ said Onekanew (Chief of OCN) Christian Sinclair in the written statement. ‘Those individuals are in the hands of the law now and will be dealt with accordingly.’

RCMP laid fraud charges against former OES employees

After a ‘very long and complex’ investigation, on May 20, the RCMP laid charges of fraud against the former OES Director of Finance, Marie(Christine) Campbell (50), the former comptroller, Wilfred Harris (59), the former human resource manager, Carmen Zolinski (37), and the former accounts payable technician, Anita Ballantyne (51). The accused are all from Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

Abstract of the statement of Opaskwayak Cree Nation leadership. (Source: Twitter)

Ballantyne, Campbell, and Harris have been arrested and are scheduled to appear in court on August 11. Zolinski is believed to be currently residing in another province and has a warrant for her arrest outstanding.

‘Going forward our focus as leadership of OCN is to continue improving and strengthening the finances and governance structure as an entire organization. A solid structure will help us put our people first,’ stated Onekanew Sinclair.

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