Charges of fraud and income tax evasion expected this week against professor with connections to PEI Department Tourism
Mild ripples of scandal permeated the spring 2011 Legislature sitting when MLA Jim Bagnall went public with fraud allegations against Sean Hennessey, a UPEI business professor.
RCMP have not confirmed this week that charges will be laid against Mr. Hennessey, after a year-long investigation. After the allegations were made in the Legislature, Dr. Roberta MacDonald who held the UPEI Dean of Business position since 2002 stepped down. MacDonald is Hennessey’s wife.
Former UPEI President Wade McLaughlin was criticized at the time for not investigating and disciplining Hennessey before his retirement in June 2011.
Several sources have told NJN the RCMP are getting ready to move on Hennessey.
The charges expected this week include income tax fraud, theft over $5000 for cashing cheques issued to the UPEI Tourism Research at UPEI by PEI Deputy Minister of Tourism Melissa MacEachern.
The cheques were deposited into Hennessey’s private company which he has registered with the almost-identical name the Tourism Research Centre (TRC).
Hennessey operated the TRC apparently from his office at UPEI, using UPEI and ACOA resources to conduct research which he then, according to the allegations, billed for services rendered to the Province of PEI.
When NJN Network investigated this story last year, we found the registration for Tourism Research Centre on behalf of of 100889 P.E.I. Inc, at 65 Prince Charles Drive, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
According to 411, 65 Prince Charles Drive is the residence of Sean Hennessey.
As the documents show, Hennessey was the sole shareholder and director of 100889 P.E.I. Inc.
Melissa MacEachern was a former colleague of Hennessey’s at UPEI. As Deputy Minister of Tourism, she approved the invoices for payment by the Province of PEI.
The money, it is alleged, went to Hennessey and not the UPEI Tourism Research Centre.
The PEI Auditor General made statements about mis-handling of Tourism contracts in his last annual report. He declined to name the participants and confirm or deny Hennessey’s involvement.
A subsequent Freedom of Information request was denied. The Privacy Commissioner ruled today the Department of Tourism was wrong in handling the request for the names referred to by the Auditor General.
“MLA Bagnall said in the legislature, “Instead of paying the university you’ve been paying Sean Hennessey. So how can you justify that?” Bagnall asked Tourism Minister Robert Vessey. “How many duplicate cheques have you made?”
“Bagnall also pointed out the connection between Hennessey and the current deputy minister of tourism, Melissa MacEachern. “Your deputy is the one that oversees this. She’s the one that worked for Sean Hennessey. She’s the one that was at the university and worked for TRC,” he said. “She knows the system and yet your deputy is OK’ing cheques to be written to individuals like Mr. Hennessey, her former boss?” Source: CBC
Six months later after the fall 2011 election, Premier Ghiz removed MacEachern from Tourism and replaced her with David MacKenzie, recently CEO of the Confederation Centre, .
Despite her proximity to the scandal, MacEachern was then appointed Deputy Minister of Innovation and Advanced Learning.
Pundits put this down to Premier Ghiz’ penchant for sticking by his friends despite their apparent unsavory activity.
None of the Ghiz appointees who were involved in the PNP scandal were ever fired.
Deputy Minister of Innovation Brooke MacMillan was caught in a conflict of interest over applying for and receiving PNP funds. He was appointed to the position of CEO of the PEI Liquor Commission. He returned the money but kept his lucrative political appointment.
Canadians outside of Prince Edward Island are not used to such intransigence on the part of a government when scandals are uncovered.
Hennessey was not place on probation or suspension by UPEI during the RCMP investigation. Despite the notoriety, and his name and photograph still appear on the UPEI list of Current Faculty.
This may be in part due to the journalism practices on PEI. The PEI Press Gallery is controlled by the Speaker’s Office. Members of the local media received money during the PNP scandal. At one point, the Premier was himself naming names in the media for their participation in the PNP as proof of their “dirty hands.”
Patronage is so prevalent on PEI that it is accepted as status quo. Same game different players. As they say, “it’s not our money anyway.”
Hennessey’s scheme was uncovered by Paul Lewis, a former employee of the real UPEI Tourism Research Centre when Hennessey and his wife took an extended vacation.
Left in charge, Lewis received cheques paying mysterious invoices that did not originate with the TRC at UPEI. Lewis questioned UPEI accounting staff and the Department of Tourism without getting answers that satisfied his curiosity.
According to Lewis, when he questioned Hennessey on his return, Hennessey fired him. Lewis, who is suing UPEI for wrongful dismissal, sent a full disclosure to Canada Revenue.
There are also allegations the players in this story received up to 12 PNP units. None of these allegations has been proven in court.
See Eastern Graphic – Government spent our money but DON’T ASK WHERE