By Anchal Sharma and Savannah Awde, The Fulcrum
A police report has been filed outlining allegations of fraud, under categories of scam and identity theft, following the submission of a report from outgoing Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) president Hadi Wess. The report by Wess raises the possibility of fraudulent action by SFUO president Rizki Rachiq, and executive director Vanessa Dorimain, with mention of vice-president of operations Axel Gaga. The complaint is in the hands of the Ottawa Police Service. No charges have been laid.
The report states that Wess was alerted to the possibility of fraud by Andre Belanger, business development and risk manager at Caisse Desjardins (the SFUO’s bank), on April 16, 2018, following unusual charges flagged by the bank. After freezing the account, Wess began an investigation with SFUO finance director Nicole Labossiere, which uncovered other inconsistencies within the organization’s finances in addition to the concerns raised by Caisse Desjardins.
Allegations against Dorimain range from fraudulent use of SFUO funds under the guise of office cleaning and the catering of the SFUO Leader Action event on April 28, while Rachiq is accused in the report of possibly forging the certification of a “faulty” club called Testing Restaurants UOttawa and claiming funds for personal use.
Both Dorimain and Rachiq were contacted for comment, however Dorimain was advised by her lawyer not to respond to questions at this time, and Rachiq did not respond to the Fulcrum’s requests in time for publication.
The following allegations have been made in Wess’ report.
Testing Restaurants UOttawa
According to Wess’ report, Rachiq received upwards of $20,000 in cheques allocated to a club called Testing Restaurants UOttawa, for which Rachiq allegedly opened a separate bank account with Desjardins. According to Belanger, the account had two debit cards, one of which was in Rachiq’s name and registered under his past home addresses.
The report also suggests that the club was never approved by the vice-president equity, as is mandatory for all SFUO clubs. The only document referred to in Wess’ report relating to the club is a 2016 letter, certifying that the club is “officially recognized” by the SFUO, and giving Rachiq signing authority over club transactions. However this was marked as notable in Wess’ report, given that the wording in the body of the letter refers to the writer with the phrase “as current president”, while signing off as then-vice-president of finance Camelia Touzany.
In an email to the Fulcrum, Touzany claimed that she was not involved in certifying the Testing Restaurants UOttawa club, stating: “in addition to the inconsistency with the position of the author of that letter, I would like to further attest that those are not my words and the signature depicted is not my authentic signature. It is a forgery of my signature.”
Expenses allegedly charged to the club’s card include the purchase of a $950 pair of eyeglasses from Albert Optical, a $609.37 charge at Louis Vuitton, a $498.30 charge at J’aime Coiffure, a hair salon in Montreal, and a transaction of $338.28 at Audi Lauzon. Other transactions include multiple ATM cash withdrawals of up to $500. According to Labossiere, no funds were transferred by the SFUO to the club in 2016.
An email detailing these charges was sent by Belanger to Wess, Dorimain, and Rachiq. While Wess said he was not aware of the existence of any such club, or the charges, Dorimain confirmed with Desjardins that the transactions were approved by the SFUO, however she did not provide any additional information requested such as the names of the individuals who approved the transactions.
Five cheques were linked to the account, with the first one deposited on March 6, 2018, amounting to $8,403.53. The cheques were made out to an entity called T.R. Alimentation, which the SFUO had a file on, according to Labossiere, and totaled upwards of $20,000.
Wess outlined his concerns regarding Rachiq’s involvement in these transactions in his report.
“Several items made me curious regarding the expenditures on this ‘club’ bank account, such as for example, the purchase of $950.00 eyeglasses at Albert Opticians in Ottawa on March 28 and (Rachiq) entered the offices on March 29 showing off his new glasses; he drives an Audi; broadcasts his ownership of Louis Vuitton shoes; and goes to J’aime Coiffure in Montreal.”
In an email to the Fulcrum, Wess noted that he believes Dorimain is also implicated in the alleged fraudulent activity by T.R. Alimentation.
“In the police report, you will see copies of emails between Vanessa and Caisse Populaire Desjardins where Vanessa essentially declares that the expenses in the Testing Restaurants bank account were legitimate,” he said.
“In other words, she claimed that Rizki’s Louis Vuitton shoes, Audi expenses, $950 glasses and J’aime Coiffure (a hair salon in Montreal) were SFUO-approved expenses.”
Leader Action Catering
Further, Wess’ report contains allegations that catering ordered for the SFUO’s Leader Action event was never delivered. Despite this, Dorimain requested approval on April 27, 2018, for a cheque in the amount of $3030.00 made out to her mother, Michelle Dorimain.
In an email, Wess stated that he believes Dorimain “issued (cheque) requisitions for what appears to be fake invoices for her mother’s company Savoury Catering,” which the SFUO had used for catering events in the past.
Wess noted as well that the decision to serve breakfast at the event was not one that he was aware of, and that Dorimain had agreed previously that only lunch would be provided by Bar 1848. In addition, Wess said the original event agenda only included a lunch time slot, but a later version of the agenda said that “a cold breakfast will be served at 9:30 a.m.”
The food served on that day, according to Wess, did not correspond to the items listed on the invoice from Savoury Catering, which included salmon slices, sausages, and omelettes, among other dishes.
On April 25, 2018, Wess received a request to approve a cheque in the amount of $860, issued by Dorimain for “office cleanup.” The report states that the cheque was made out to Eyanni Perron, an alleged “known friend” of Dorimain’s who Wess said in an email to the Fulcrum was not present when SFUO staff were cleaning their offices.
According to the report, Wess asked Dorimain why they were paying for office cleanup when this was a task that each executive member was responsible for, which had not been compensated for in the past. Dorimain allegedly responded by saying that executive members were not the only ones to clean the offices this year, and that Wess’ office would also be cleaned for him.
Wess then asked why the cheque was being made out to Perron, and the report states that Dorimain said “so we do not have to issue it to a staff member.”
In his report Wess explains, “Frankly, I was confused when I received the cheque requisition because the simple way to make sure everyone is compensated for their efforts would be for Ms. Dorimain’s to approve overtime hours for the … staff members.”
Further, he told the Fulcrum that “it has never been the tradition to pay a cleaning company for such (a) thing as we do have custodians who clean our offices on regular basis.”
Wess claims he did not approve the request, but found that it had been signed the following day by Rachiq, who was the vice-president finance at the time.
No charges laid
The Fulcrum can confirm that no charges have been laid at the Ottawa courthouse. The Ottawa Police Service would not confirm whether a formal investigation is currently ongoing.
In a statement released to students via email, the University of Ottawa administration commented on the allegations, stating that representatives from the U of O met with the SFUO executive committee to request a forensic audit to investigate these concerns.
“The University collects fees from students and transfers these funds in regular instalments to the SFUO so that it can provide services and activities to students, including transit passes (U-Pass),” the statement reads, noting that the university will be withholding transfer payments from the SFUO until results of the audit are made available.