08/11/2015 15:08 EDT | Updated 08/11/2016 01:12 EDT

Society director fined for misappropriating Kamloops railway society funds

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — A former Kamloops, B.C., councillor who admitted to funnelling $200,000 of grant money from a society has been banned for a year from sitting as a director on any boards.

Joe Leong, 65, admitted using money from the Kamloops Heritage Railway Society to tend to his personal finances and was fined $2,000.

Leong repaid the money with interest before it was discovered that he has misappropriated it.

He was originally charged with two counts each of fraud, breach of trust and theft over $5,000.

Leong admitted to lesser offences under the Society Act of B.C., including failing to exercise care as a director and failing to fully disclose the nature and extent of his interest in transactions.

Court heard Leong, who last served as city councillor in 2008, was a director of the society between 2009 and 2012. Shortly after he joined, the society decided to cut costs by eliminating its bookkeeper. As treasurer, Leong took on those responsibilities.

“In hindsight, this turned out to be a mistake for both the society and Mr. Leong,” Crown lawyer Chris Balison said.

The society was dependant on an annual operating grant of more than $100,000 from the City of Kamloops.

“The board was both flexible and informal in its meetings and decision-making,” Balison said.

“As often happens with volunteer boards, intentions are well meant, but governance issues arose which were unintended.”

In December 2010, court heard, the society was unable to pay its debts. Leong offered $9,000 of his own money and was repaid weeks later.

The practice of the society had been to invest its city grant in a short-term, low-interest GIC for the first few months of the year. In 2011, Leong offered to invest the money through his personal account for a better return.

The society’s president, Glen Wideman, agreed.

“There is a dispute about the kind of investment that was authorized,” Balison said.

“However, it is agreed that Mr. Leong was authorized to make an investment, but the board did not intend to authorize Mr. Leong’s personal use of the $100,000.”

Because of shoddy record keeping, the only reference in society minutes to the transaction was a mention of a “$100,000 restricted net asset” investment.

“Mr. Leong used the $100,000 for various personal debts between Feb. 11, 2011, and May 30, 2011, inclusive,” Balison said.

Leong had the $100,000 repaid by the end of May 2011 and paid $225 interest the following month.

In March 2012, Wideman cut Leong another $100,000 cheque, which was again deposited into a personal account. Leong repaid the amount with a cheque for $100,150 six weeks later.

Defence lawyer Ken Walker said his client was made a mistake.

“Joe and the board were not putting their minds to the things they should have been putting their minds to,” he said.

Outside court, Leong said he was relieved that the process is over.

“My intention has always been good — to help the railway. I still remain committed to the community." (Kamloops This Week)

Tim Petruk, Kamloops This Week, The Canadian Press