TORONTO — A former Salvation Army executive diverted truckloads of donations received by the charity to the black market as part of scheme to make money, a Toronto court has ruled.
David Rennie was found guilty this week of six charges related to the setup, including fraud, theft and trafficking in stolen goods, though he was cleared of a conspiracy charge after a judge found his co-accused not guilty.
Justice Sandra Bacchus said in her decision that over two years, Rennie partnered with a wholesaler to cherry-pick the best donations and resell them for a profit, though it's unclear exactly how much he benefited financially.
The wholesaler, Umaish "Tony" Ramrattan, "profited handsomely" but Bacchus said she couldn't be certain of his intention to deceive since he had acted openly and with the approval of Rennie, who was then the executive director of a north Toronto Salvation Army location that served as a storage facility and distribution centre.
Bacchus said the pair worked together to reroute large amounts of food, products and toys — including some collected through the organization's high-profile Toy Mountain holiday drive — to a separate warehouse from where it was sold off to grocery stores and other retailers.
She said their actions left the Salvation Army's Railside Road location with fewer, and sometimes scarce, donations to distribute to its partners and what remained was of a poorer calibre.
"I find that in no scenario Mr. Rennie would have been entitled to sell donations including donated toys or to engage with a wholesaler with respect to selling donations," Bacchus said.
While the extra warehouse was initially used to deal with a large donation that required refrigeration, it eventually turned into an "illegitimate holding space" for goods poached from the Salvation Army, she said.
Rennie was arrested in late 2012 after police discovered a massive cache of toys — including two bicycles donated by then-premier Dalton McGuinty — in a warehouse in Brampton, Ont., and in a facility in Toronto.
An estimated 100,000 items, worth roughly $2 million, were found, police said at the time. A detective on the case said he had never seen a similar operation of that magnitude.
Court heard during trial that the scheme began to unravel after Salvation Army employees noticed irregularities in how donations were being handled and flagged them to the charity's own auditors, who later went to police.
Staff members testified they were told Ramrattan was to be given free rein of the facility and that any attempt to interfere were thwarted by Rennie.
Court also heard that Rennie insisted on looping in Ramrattan on emails and discussions involving large donations.
In one instance, court heard, more than 5,000 cases of Easter chocolate donated by Nestle were taken directly to the other warehouse, with Salvation Army employees having no recollection of it ever having been at their facility.
In a 2011 incident, Sun Products donated six tractor-trailers of laundry detergent and later found some of it for sale at a grocery store, confirming that the lot numbers matched, court heard. When the company contacted Rennie, he expressed outrage and vowed to investigate, the court heard, though he instead forwarded the exchange to Ramrattan.
Rennie was also found guilty of corruptly accepting a reward in connection with an arrangement he had with a charity in northern Ontario. Court heard he charged Faith Charities $500 per load of often damaged goods the organization picked up from the Toronto location.
In her ruling, Bacchus found there was evidence of both enrichment and motive, pointing to financial records that showed Rennie owed close to $70,000 to the Canada Revenue Agency at the time of the scheme.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press