OTTAWA - The Mounties are investigating a senior British Columbia health official accused of bilking a remote aboriginal community out of possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Canadian Press has learned the RCMP was called in after federal investigators discovered the official's questionable billings to a First Nation community in B.C.'s northern Interior.
The allegations revolve around claims that the official was providing counselling to the Tl'azt'en Nation when he was actually working in another city for the province's northern health authority.
Acting on a tip, Health Canada called in its special examination unit in March 2010.
The Canadian Press obtained the investigators' report — dated March 21, 2012 — under the Access to Information Act.
Investigators found the man regularly billed the Tl'azt'en Nation — which receives money from the federal government through transfer agreements — for 40 hours a month in psychologist services.
But most days he claimed to be at the Tl'azt'en Nation, investigators say he was actually working for B.C. Northern Health in Prince George, some 220 kilometres away.
"This observation questioned the third party's capacity to concurrently fulfil work obligations under his demanding role at BCNHA and provide mental-health services in the remote communities of Tl'azt'en Nation during the regular work week," the Health Canada report says.
"This individual would have worked at least a 14-hour day aside from the travel time.... It is improbable members of Tl'azt'en communities would be receiving counselling services so late in the evening," it adds.
Health Canada alleges the man "falsely" invoiced for 11 days, "improbably" invoiced for another 51 days and overbilled for travel, to the tune of $84,017.
Over six years, however, the investigators allege the improper claims may have run as high as $403,647.
"In our opinion, the allegation against the third party in billing Tl'azt'en Nation for services not rendered is founded," the document says.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq insisted the money will be recovered.
"Unfortunately, there are a few bad eggs that cause distractions, but I can say that I take it very seriously," she said in an interview.
"It's absolutely unacceptable to have health-care professionals double-billing and stealing from Canadian taxpayers in the health-care system. And these individuals — the few of them, fortunately — are a distraction from the very important role health-care professionals make into our system."
The allegations come to light as part of an ongoing, months-long investigation by The Canadian Press into alleged wrongdoing involving federal money for aboriginal health care.
A spokeswoman for Health Canada confirmed the RCMP have been called in.
"Health Canada takes active measures to investigate, recover funds, and refer cases to policing and regulatory bodies when appropriate," Sylwia Krzyszton wrote in an email.
"This matter has been referred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and it would be inappropriate to comment at this time."
Health Canada and the Tl'azt'en Nation are working on a plan to recover the money, Krzyszton added.
Northern Health said it wasn't aware of the case. Because Health Canada does not name the worker in its report, the provincial agency declined to comment on the findings.
"In the absence of a name we would be unable to confirm, and could only speculate who the subject of the report might be ... and that wouldn't be appropriate," spokeswoman Eryn Collins wrote in an email.
"While NH's corporate offices are located in Prince George, it is a large organization with managers in various program areas and facilities throughout the region."
The psychologist's case is the latest in a string of alleged abuses of federal money for aboriginal health care by pharmacies, a health clinic and a remote nursing station — all of which have purportedly cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
Some of those other allegations so far include:
— Staff at a remote nursing station in northern Ontario who allegedly authorized expensive medical flights to go grocery shopping;
— A Manitoba pharmacist who agreed to pay back thousands of dollars to the federal government for an alleged over-billing scheme;
— A New Brunswick First Nations health centre where half a million dollars that came from federal contribution agreements was allegedly misappropriated;
— Another Manitoba pharmacist and his former drug store who face a multimillion-dollar lawsuit from the federal government over allegations they defrauded the federal health-benefits program for aboriginals;
— A pair of pharmacies in Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan that allegedly submitted phoney claims to the aboriginal health-benefits plan;
— A defunct Ontario eyewear store that allegedly broke the rules for billing the aboriginal health-benefits program, including listing the name of a machine as the prescribing doctor on some of its reimbursement slips.
Police have been called in at least five times now and the Canada Revenue Agency is involved in one case. The federal government has also taken several pharmacies to court over allegations they submitted bogus claims to the program.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
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