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Improper construction payments at heart of alleged York University fraud

A Toronto police investigation into an alleged $1.2-million fraud at York University is focusing on a series of apparently improper payments for campus construction and maintenance billed to the school between 2007 and early 2010, The Globe and Mail has learned.

Officials at York have confirmed that "a few key individuals" – employees who left the university in 2010 – are under scrutiny as a result of an internal university investigation that began 20 months ago. Police are still looking into the allegations, but York University sources say criminal charges are anticipated.

One source has also said that what York described in a public statement as "a number of irregularities" unearthed in an internal probe refers to allegations that the university was repeatedly over-billed for a wide array of contract construction and maintenance work over a period of about three years. The source said dozens of transactions were involved.

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"This involved paying money for work that was not done," the source said. "A lot of work is carried out on the campus involving different kinds of things, and a lot of it involved procurement."

Sources also said a former senior university employee is the focus of the investigation. The outside contractors do not appear to be implicated in any wrongdoing. York has declined to release further details of the alleged improprieties to avoid compromising the police investigation.

"We understand the dimension of the issue," a university spokesperson said on Friday. "We are taking all measures available to recover the money."

York said in a statement that it began a "comprehensive" internal investigation in December, 2009, after learning of apparent fraudulent activities. After preliminary inquiries, the school hired the forensic accounting firm Navigant, which is headquartered in Chicago but has Canadian offices, to prepare a detailed case file.

The statement said York received Navigant's report in May, and "immediately handed over the relevant materials to the Toronto Police Service," with which it is now working closely.

"York deeply values the trust placed in the university by our students, faculty, staff, alumni and other members of the York community and we have no tolerance for abuse of this trust," the university said.

With an annual budget of about $900-million, York serves nearly 55,000 students at its sprawling campus in Toronto's north end.

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Banking Reporter

James Bradshaw is banking reporter for the Report on Business. He covered media from 2014 to 2016, and higher education from 2010 to 2014. Prior to that, he worked as a cultural reporter for Globe Arts, and has written for both the Toronto section and the editorial page. More

At The Globe and Mail since 1982, in assorted manifestations, chiefly crime reporter, foreign correspondent and member of the Editorial Board, Tim is now retired. More

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