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Former development authority CEO pleads guilty to submitting forged document

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The story of the defunct Cumberland Regional Development Association and its former chief executive officer is coming to an end.

Rhonda Charmaine Kelly walked into an Amherst courtroom April 26 to plead guilty to one of the 10 charges laid against her – a count of causing the Nova Scotia Dept. of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism to act upon a forged document between July 2007 and January 2010.

In January Kelly pleaded not guilty to all charges against her but will now return to court on June 19 – the same day she was intended to go to trial – for sentencing. It’s expected the remaining charges against her will be dropped at that time.

 

Seven years to get here

The case against Kelly has not been easy. Instead, it’s been akin to an espionage movie complete with whistleblowers, bank lockboxes, hidden hard drives and search warrants.

It began in 2010, when two CRDA employees were fired from their jobs after disclosing to the board of directors their issue with some of the practices within the government-funded authority behind projects like the Joggins Fossils Cliffs, Cape Chignecto Trail and the revitalization of Thinkers Lodge in Pugwash and downtown Amherst.

A later investigation by the provincial ombudsman’s office concluded in 2012 the development authority’s financial practices paired with the province’s lack of oversight warranted a forensic examination of CRDA’s books.

 

* Related article: Ombudsman calls for forensic audit of CRDA

* Related link: Office of the Ombudsman Final Report

The Municipality of Cumberland County called for Kelly’s suspension and CRDA’s board after the Ombudsman’s report was made public. CRDA was soon dismantled along with the other regional development authorities in the province in favour of a provincial model.

*Related article: County calls for suspension of CRDA executive director, board

In 2013, the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCooper were hired by the province to conduct the forensic audit. Those findings were handed over to RCMP in July 2014.

In its 700-page examination, the firm questioned 24 invoices and noted eight examples of questionable invoices from the development authority over a four-year period – valued at approximately $790,000.

* Related article: CRDA file handed over to RCMP

Very little was heard on the investigation until the summer of 2015 when RCMP announced they executed a search warrant on an Amherst bank and found what they considered a beneficial clue to their investigation. Inside one of the bank’s lockboxes was a computer hard drive believed connected to the case. It, along with the bank log of everyone who accessed the lockbox since 2007, was seized as part of the RCMP investigation, which by that point included interviews with 40 witnesses.

*Related article: RCMP say they located key computer in CRDA investigation

Kelly was charged eight months later.

* Related article: Former head of CRDA charged with fraud, forgery

 

By the year

2010– Two CRDA employees inform the board of directors of questionable accounting practices taking place within the authority. They are subsequently fired and take the issue to the provincial Ombudsman.

2012 – The Office of the Ombudsman submits its report, calling for a forensic audit of CRDA.

2013 –PricewaterhouseCoopers, following their audit of CRDA, signal to RCMP a criminal investigation is needed

2015 – RCMP confirm they seized a computer hard drive found in a bank lockbox considered significant to their investigation into the CRDA matter

2016 – Charges are laid against former CRDA executive director Rhonda Kelly

2017 – Kelly pleads guilty to one count of causing the Nova Scotia Dept. of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism to act upon a forged document

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