Exclusive: Wanted Ontario bureaucrat hired himself, court documents allege

Exclusive: Wanted Ontario bureaucrat hired himself, court documents allege

A former Ontario civil servant hired himself as an IT contractor under a false name and fraudulently billed the government for more than $160,000, according to allegations contained in court documents obtained by QP Briefing.

The Ontario Provincial Police issued a news release on Nov. 14, announcing a former director with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services (MGCS), Shabbir Evershine, had been charged with fraud over $5,000, conspiracy, and breach of trust — and that police were looking for information on his whereabouts.

Police announced they’re also looking for his wife, Rashida Evershine, who has also been charged with fraud and conspiracy.

But neither the police nor the ministry disclosed what Shabbir Evershine is alleged to have done — and to date, he’s yet to be found and arrested. (The photo above comes from  his LinkedIn profile page, which was deactivated after police announced the warrant for his arrest.)

QP Briefing requested and received the court documents police used to secure several production orders related to the case, referred to as the Information to Obtain (ITO).

The documents outline the allegations police have built their case on; the information that follows is based on those ITOs. The allegations and charges have not been proven in court.

According to the ITOs, Shabbir Evershine was hired as a director of the project management office in the MGCS pay and benefits services division in November, 2013.

In that role, Evershine is alleged to have hired consultant “Shoaib Najmuddin” for two IT assignments, under Evershine’s direction, from Feb. 27, 2014 to April 30, 2014, and from May 5, 2014 to March 31 , 2015.

It wasn’t until after Evershine left the ministry on Aug. 30, 2014, to pursue a career with  Royal Bank of Canada that the ministry triggered an internal investigation by the province’s Forensic Investigation Team (FIT).

And that led to the twist — FIT uncovered evidence that suggested “Shoaib Najmuddin” was  actually Evershine.

According to the ITO, Evershine hired himself as Najmuddin through and Ant & Bee Corp., an IT consulting and recruiting firm that represented Najmuddin. That company is not accused of wrongdoing.

Evershine fabricated interview scores for Najmuddin in the name of a colleague, who later told police she had never interviewed him, and had never seen him, the ITO says.

There was little evidence of work done by Najmuddin after he was hired, according to allegations in the ITO, only a PowerPoint presentation that had last been modified by Evershine, and a project management template Evershine had allegedly used in his own job interview, and which had also been last modified by Evershine.

For that, “Najmuddin” is alleged to have billed the ministry $164,847.

The FIT’s evidence that Evershine and Najmuddin are the same person included that the recruiter, Ant & Bee Corp., never met Najmuddin; both men had the same educational background, similar résumés containing the identical language in some parts; and the fact that Evershine’s father’s name is Shoaib and his grandfather’s name is Najmuddin.

The FIT investigation found evidence that “Najmuddin” had logged into the ministry’s computers using Evershine’s credentials, in a secure building to which Najmuddin had never been signed into. Evershine, through his network account, had also logged into Najmuddin’s webmail account, the investigators alleged.

Evershine’s browsing history also included a web search for, “How to Clone Myself Time issue.”

The investigators also alleged Evershine used his executive assistant’s “P-card” improperly, to purchase a laptop-tablet computer, which he claimed was used by Najmuddin. A "P-card" is a purchasing card given to employees.

The ITO includes interviews with witnesses who worked in the ministry who said Najmuddin was never seen, and worked out of Ottawa because he was hearing- and speech-impaired and became known by other contractors as the “Phantom Contractor.”

In an interview with the OPP, MGCS assistant deputy minister Riet Verheggen said she began looking into Najmuddin when Evershine was on a vacation in August, 2014, just prior to his planned departure from the ministry. Evershine had asked manager Natalia Welniak to sign off on a timesheet for Najmuddin, but Welniak told Verheggen she’d never seen or heard from Najmuddin, nor knew of any deliverables from him.

Verheggen then found similarities in Evershine’s and Najmuddin’s résumés and learned Najmuddin hadn’t been issued a building card, she told the OPP.

Najmuddin ended his contract with MGCS abruptly in September, 2014, six months premature of his original contract end date. He avoided voice contact and declined an in-person exit meeting with Verheggen, and asked to be contacted by email instead, according to the ITOs. She said she contracted Najmuddin by email, who said he now had a job in Barcelona.

Verheggen requested the FIT investigation, which led to the OPP investigation, and the charges, more than two years later.

“Verheggen stated if Evershine had taken Najmuddin off the pay role [sic] before he left, she never would have known anything about this,” police wrote in the interview summary with her included in the ITOs.

The other police interview summaries in the ITO indicate what other MGCS employees thought of Evershine.

Hatem Belhi, director of payroll and business support with MGCS, told police Evershine had been hired to head up a branch that had been recreated to take some of the responsibility from his — but Belhi didn’t like how Evershine worked, particularly in “always wanting outside consulting,” over internal staff, the ITO says.

“He went in a different direction with his own consulting, and Evershine had re-built what was already done by Belhi, and did it in a flashy manor [sic],” police wrote, in the interview summary.

Belhi described Evershine as a good sales person, who talked as though things had been completed — only to find out to the contrary after he’d left.

Tara Lynne Franco, assistant to Verheggen, described him as “slick and confident in himself,” according to police.

“Franco said that Evershine had the appearing [sic] of having everything under control and he commanded a room when he was in it,” the ITO says.

Rob Gagne, a director with MGCS Pay and Benefits Operations Branch, told police Evershine talked about being a project management guru and sounded like he knew what he was talking about — but now Gagne questions that, the ITO says.

Gagne also said he felt that Evershine’s consultants' work wasn’t high quality or timely, and the consultants were given inappropriate incentives for work that remained unfinished — so he felt they were a waste taxpayers' money, the ITO says.

The ITOs obtained by QP Briefing related to production orders for records held by TD Bank, Royal Bank and Ant & Bee Corp.

Police allege that the results show Ant & Bee Corp. billed the government $164,827 on Najmuddin’s behalf and deposited $146,891.55 into his RBC corporate account, under the company name B52 Global Inc., of which Rashida Evershine, Shoaib Najmuddin and a third person are listed as directors.

The production order served on RBC showed $131,800 in transfers from the B52 Global Inc. account to an account in Shabbir Evershine’s name at TD, and an account held by “LocaWoka,” at RBC.

“LocaWoka” is a start-up tech company founded by Evershine, police allege.

Evershine was profiled in Canadian Immigrant magazine for his role in the start-up.

MGCS spokeswoman Anne-Marie Flanagan released a brief comment when the charges were laid, and had no further comment to make Friday, as the "matter is before the courts and remains unresolved."

"Our government takes allegations of misconduct very seriously," Flanagan said, when the charges were announced. "An internal investigation was conducted when inconsistencies involving a former employee were discovered. Once the internal investigation was complete the government shared the information with the OPP. I understand that the OPP have laid charges. As charges have been laid and the matter has not yet been resolved, I cannot comment further."

The Auditor General's report

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk appears to reference the case in her 2016 annual report, in the chapter on Supply Chain Ontario and Procurement Practices, although the watchdog does not name names.

"Best practices over the procurement of IT consultants are not always followed," she wrote. "Consultants are hired without in-person interviews, payments to consultants can be authorized by the same person who hires them, and the Secretariat that processes these payments does not perform any additional review to ensure payments are legitimate. Because of these control weaknesses, the risk exists that the ministries may not always be selecting the most qualified candidate."

"The situation creates opportunities for fraud," she alleged, in her report. "Our audit noted a situation where a senior manager at one ministry was aware of these internal control weaknesses and proceeded to create and hire a phantom consultant. The senior manager created a fake resumé and sent it to a preferred supplier. The resumé matched the skills that the manager was looking for. Based on the resumé, the preferred supplier unknowingly recommended the phantom consultant to the senior manager, who hired him from a list of candidates. Over a period of several months, the senior manager approved the phantom consultant’s invoices that billed for every day of the month and pocketed about $150,000 for services never rendered."

"When we discussed this situation with senior management at the Secretariat, they told us that they became aware of this fraud in 2014, some time after the senior manager left the ministry for another job," Lysyk continued. "However, our review showed that the Secretariat has not addressed the control weaknesses that allowed this fraud to take place. Nor have they investigated whether any other cases of fraud have occurred. The Secretariat’s senior management have also not discussed this issue with their staff so that they could implement preventive measures to detect any such potential payments in the future."

Lysyk recommended that the Treasury Board Secretariat "review all payments to IT consultants for any anomalies," and "verify the existence of IT consultants working for the ministries."

The Treasury Board Secretariat agreed to those recommendations, according to the report.

"The Secretariat will improve controls for validating payments to IT consultants by ensuring adequate segregation of duties and addressing potential anomalies," the ministry's response, included in the report, says. "The Secretariat will work with ministry partners to look at strengthening the hiring of IT consultants through a review of verification and identification controls, which may include enhanced security screening, social insurance number validation and in-person interviews."

To contact the reporter on this story:
jsmithcross@qpbriefing.com
416-212-5816
Twitter: @jessiecatherine

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Copyright 2016 QP Briefing

Jessica Smith Cross

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