08/13/2013 06:47 EDT | Updated 10/13/2013 05:12 EDT

Alberta Health Executive Expenses Scandal: Little Chance Of Recovering Cash, Says Report

EDMONTON - It appears that Alberta taxpayers are out of luck when it comes to getting back any money that was improperly spent by health executives.

Health Minister Fred Horne said Tuesday that a legal opinion on the matter indicates such attempts would prove futile.

"The legal opinion states clearly that under the Limitations Act, AHS cannot recover claims that are more than two years old," Horne said in a news release.

"The legal opinion also states that the chances of a successful lawsuit in such cases would be minimal. Our government doesn’t want to see hard-earned taxpayers’ money wasted on legal actions that have little chance of success."

Horne noted Conservative Premier Alison Redford's government has already taken action to tighten up accountability rules to make sure improper claims are not approved in the future.

Horne asked for the legal opinion this spring after a number of embarrassing expense accounts of former health executives came to light.

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Outrageous AHS Spending Scandals

In April, Sheila Weatherill, the former head of the Edmonton health region, repaid $7,800 after it was revealed that in 2007 she approved the expenses for one of her executives, Michele Lahey, to fly to the prestigious private Mayo Clinic in the United States for a cancer checkup.

The documents revealed that not only did taxpayers cover the medical tests, they also paid for Lahey's two-night hotel stay along with expensive meals, Perrier water, an in-room movie, key lime pie, creme brulee, and designer coffees like caramel macchiato.

Weatherill was a board member of Alberta Health Services until last August. She resigned shortly after AHS chief financial officer Allaudin Merali tendered his resignation over an expense scandal.

An audit found that Merali, while the chief financial officer for Weatherill at Capital Health, had racked up almost $370,000 in questionable expenses. There were lavish dinners and parties, and bills to taxpayers to fix and upgrade his Mercedes Benz. He also hired a butler.

Weatherill had signed off on Merali's expenses.

Opposition leaders and journalists are still seeking to get Weatherill's expenses released under freedom of information legislation, and say a forensic audit of all expenses going back five years or so would help clear the air.

Horne has said anyone who wants such information can ask for it under freedom of information rules.

AHS is a separate arm of government charged with delivering day-to-day health care. It reports to Horne.