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Retired Canadian Football-Star-Turned-Prison-Official Faulted

Ron Stewart endeared himself to Canadian citizens during his years as a star halfback for the Ottawa Rough Riders. He later entered into public service where be served for 26 years, including as a prison oversight official, until he retired in 2004. It was recently revealed that the Canadian icon improperly collected as much as $325,000 in salary, vacation pay and job-related expenses.

In 1990 Stewart became the ombudsman for Canada?s federal prisons. A report by the Auditor General, released in November 2006, found that he missed more than 300 days of work between 1998 and 2004 even though he was paid for that time.

Stewart took trips to Canada?s Football Hall of Fame, to cities that hosted five Grey Cup games, and to his high school reunion; he even spent months in his country cottage, all at the taxpayers? expense.

?We were told by the employees in that office that this behavior had been going on for a while,? said Auditor General Sheila Fraser.

Government officials were able to trace much of Stewart?s activity through his cell phone use. What they found was that the former prison ombudsman was spending months on end at his cottage while he was being paid for working.

CTV reporter Grant Richardson explained the investigation. ?For instance, if they found he made a cell phone call for a minute, even though they don?t know what the cell phone call was about, they gave him credit for a day of work and still found 319 days where they could find absolutely no record of the work he was doing.?

Stewart insisted that he was performing his duties properly and, at the times in question, was investigating prisoners? complaints. However, the former prison ombudsman claimed the records related to those complaints were disposed of in 2005, a year after he retired.

Existing documents indicate that Stewart collected $83,000 in unearned salary, was improperly paid $95,000 in vacation time, and claimed $127,000 in ?questionable? receipts. Investigators also said Stewart was paid $12,000 in illegitimate travel expenses and $8,000 for two computers for his home that were used by family members.

Fraser defended the lapse in detecting Stewart?s improprieties for so many years by saying the ombudsman?s office must have a certain independence from government because of its advocacy function on behalf of prisoners.

In October 2007, Stewart voluntarily repaid $112,000 to the Canadian government and apologized for having received any payments ?in error? during his term as ombudsman. ?I deeply regret any procedures that might have been viewed as inappropriate or misleading,? he said.
The continuing investigation has been turned over to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to determine if criminal charges are warranted.

Sources: CTV News, Canadian Press

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