PoCo city employee confesses to $175K cash-for-tools embezzlement scheme

A Port Coquitlam city employee has confessed to embezzling $175,000 from the city in a scheme that involved buying tools with city money and then reselling them for cash. 

Port Coquitlam chief administrative officer John Leeburn said the thefts began in April of 2014 and weren't on anyone's radar until a whistle blower came forward with information in February of this year.

 A few days later, the employee came forward and confessed. He or she resigned last week and has been cooperating with the investigation.

The city is not identifying the employee and has not filed a report with police.

Instead, Leeburn says the city has conducted a forensic review and has focused on recovering the stolen money. He says the entire $175,000 was repaid by the employee.

"Phase one was to be very clear on how this happened — making sure we understood all of the things that were illegitimately purchased and that we had the right number to be repaid," he said.

Multiple city accounts

According to Leeburn, the employee had access to multiple city accounts and credit cards. Purchases of a large number of tools and power equipment were spread out across the accounts.

Purchases ranged from "just under $1,000 and up from there."

"The employee knew what the employee's self approval limit was, and the vast, vast, majority of the purchases were under the employee's self approval limit. So, it was a good number of small purchases that added up to the $175,000."

Leeburn said no other city employees were complicit in the scheme. He could not explain how the purchases went unnoticed.

'Knew the system'

"The employee knew the system and knew what could be done in terms of allocating purchases to different accounts," he said. 

The city has now moved into "phase two" of its investigation which means, according to Leeburn, trying to figure out how systems or staff failed to detect any wrongdoing.

"Our goal is to minimize the chances of this ever happening again," he said.

In a news release, Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore said he is pleased with the city's response. 

"I understand the actions of one person can challenge the public's trust but I want to assure our residents that city council is working to ensure that this never occurs again," said Moore.