Investigation into Calgary councillor’s expenses shows $10K still in question

A forensic audit into the expense claims of Calgary councillor Joe Magliocca found that he improperly claimed $5,657 in the last two years, and that there are outstanding questions about another $10,247. 

The audit, completed by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC), will also be sent to Calgary police and the minister of municipal affairs for review. It was released to the public on Wednesday.

It found that of $36,687 claimed by the Ward 2 councillor between October 2017, the start of his current term in office, and March when the report was commenced, $20,782 of his claimed expenses followed the proper policies and procedures.

But $5,657 was improperly claimed and another $10,247 from seven upgraded flights will need to be reviewed by council’s priorities and finance committee. 

Magliocca has voluntarily repaid a total of $6,220.

“It is very troubling,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi told media on Wednesday. 

“As you look through this, you see that at the very best this is a real disregard for the rules. At the very worst this is a pattern of behaviour that I don’t think is fitting of an elected official who should treat every dollar as though it is the dollar of your neighbour because this is public money.”

Read the report into Coun. Joe Magliocca’s expense claims. The article continues below. 

In January, the Calgary Herald first reported that Magliocca expensed $6,400 — about double that of his colleagues — during a trip to the annual Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Quebec City the previous spring.

Those expense claims included meals and alcohol for meetings that some attendees he claimed he met with said never took place.

In fact, the investigation found 11 attendees he claimed he hosted said they were not in attendance. PwC also said there were “numerous” other attendees it was unable to contact to confirm if meetings had taken place. 

The city’s integrity commissioner Sal LoVecchio would have been tasked with investigating and adjudicating the matter, but LoVecchio recused himself after he realized Magliocca expensed a $163 social lunch the pair shared, without LoVecchio’s knowledge.

The investigation of Magliocca was handed to the city auditor, who hired PwC to conduct the forensic audit.

[Magliocca] keeps talking about the need to protect the public dollar … when it comes to swimming pools or transit he’s big on protecting the purse. When he’s travelling to Quebec City or Halifax, not so much.– Duane Bratt, political science professor

CBC News has reached out to Magliocca for comment, who has yet to publicly address the audit’s findings.

“In this case, there is a report that shows that there were many, many ineligible expenses that were charged to the taxpayer and if you’re not going to apologize for that, then you have to ask yourself: what are you doing in public life?” Nenshi said. 

When the matter was first reported, Magliocca voluntarily reimbursed $4,477. After the councillor reviewed the draft investigation into his expenses, he voluntarily reimbursed another $1,473. 

Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University, said the report highlights two major issues: the upgrading of flights, hotel rooms, and car rentals; and carelessness, in misrepresenting meetings and not filing receipts.

“The problem isn’t so much the dollar figure … is this just a paperwork issue, or is this something deeper than that?” Bratt said. 

Bratt said Magliocca represents himself as a fiscal conservative, at least when it comes to city spending.

“He keeps talking about the need to protect the public dollar … when it comes to swimming pools or transit he’s big on protecting the purse. When he’s travelling to Quebec City or Halifax, not so much,” he said. 

‘I knew it was wrong,’ Magliocca says

Magliocca told PwC he reimbursed the expenses because what he did was wrong. 

“Because I knew it was wrong and from day one it’s wrong to do that to the constituents or citizens. And my policy’s always been to pay for the alcohol ourselves and if I couldn’t match up the invoices, shame on me. It was all voluntary,” he said, according to the report.

When asked to clarify in what sense the claims were wrong, Magliocca said it was wrong of him to expense alcohol to Calgary taxpayers.

“I just couldn’t remember exactly who I was with right at the time and I couldn’t and did not remember, and I paid for it out of my own pocket because I didn’t want to put the burden on the citizens,” he said. 

Out of 89 people Magliocca claimed expenses for hosting:

  • 25 did not respond.
  • 23 confirmed they were in attendance and that the meeting was business related. 
  • 17 could not recall or confirm if they were in attendance.
  • 11 confirmed they were not in attendance.
  • 9 could not be located/contacted.
  • 2 confirmed they were in attendance and that the meeting was social, not business.
  • 2 refused to respond. 

When asked by PwC why he didn’t provide the firm with names or contact information for some people he had hosted, Magliocca said he may have misrepresented some of them and couldn’t recall which ones.

In 25 per cent of events Magliocca hosted, he didn’t provide names of those in attendance. 

“I felt super bad I misrepresented the people, you know, being a politician and I didn’t want to bring anyone under the bus … I may have put a wrong name on a receipt or two and I made a mistake and I was not going to drag these guys through and I paid for it,” he said.

The audit also found that in 40 per cent of personal meals the councillor claimed, receipts were missing, meaning the auditors could not confirm if ineligible alcohol expenses were claimed at those meals.  

Nenshi said it troubles him that the report shows a pattern of improper behaviour that went on for years.

Councillor was elected in 2013

Magliocca was elected to council in 2013, but Nenshi said he’s not sure what would be gained from another audit assessing the councillor’s entire time in office, as forensic audits like this one come at a significant cost.

Nenshi said the sanctions are the largest he’s ever seen council put forward and close to the limit of council’s authority.

Council voted unanimously to issue a letter of reprimand to Magliocca, request he make a public apology, order him to receive training on relevant policies and ban him from business trips until the organizational meeting of council in 2021. 

While council cannot force Magliocca to resign, Kaycee Madu, the minister of municipal affairs, can fire him.

A spokesperson for the minister said Madu’s office has yet to receive the report but will review it upon its arrival.

“Calgary has dutifully handled this matter through its code of conduct policy. We hope this situation results in positive changes for taxpayers,” the spokesperson said. 

As for the police investigation, Bratt said while police may find something concerning in the number of incidents reported, there’s a harsher tribunal Magliocca will have to face.

“What I think is bigger than the police are the ethical matters, the political matters, and that’s where he’s got to face a much tougher court — and that’s the court of public opinion.”