LAO Newsroom

Investigations Department makes sure of appropriate use of public funds

Posted on: Tuesday, December 23 /08

Eyes on LAO Investigations
The role of Legal Aid Ontario's (LAO) Investigations Department is to ensure the proper use of public funds by investigating any breaches of the Legal Aid Services Act and any allegations of the misuse of legal aid funds by clients, lawyers, employees or other service providers.

The department consists of two full-time investigators, one part-time investigator and two support staff. All investigators have backgrounds in fraud investigations and criminal court procedures. The two full-time investigators are active members of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. The support staff consist of an investigative analyst and administrative assistant.

All allegations of fraud or improper use of LAOs funds are investigated thoroughly in accordance with Investigations Departments mandate and policy to ensure the appropriate use of public funds.

LAO, as a publicly funded and publicly accountable organization, exhibits zero tolerance for fraud and the improper use of public funds.

The Investigations Departments mandate is to:

  • Protect LAO from fraud, misappropriation of assets and the commissions of other offences by:
    • Lawyers and other external service providers
    • Legal aid clients or applicants
    • employees
  • Enforce the Legal Aid Services Act and Regulations (LASA);
  • Proactively seek out abuse and potential abuse on LAO;
  • Investigate alleged breaches of LASA in relation to lawyers and other external service providers, legal aid clients, legal aid applicants and employees of LAO;
  • Recover overpayments made to lawyers and other external service providers;
  • Recover amounts billed to certificates for which the client was not eligible; and,
  • Provide training to LAO staff on the importance of bringing appropriate matters to the attention of the Investigations Department.

The Investigations Department has systems, methods and safeguards in place backed by experience and special insight that uncovers innocent inadvertent overpayments, errors in billing and billings where there is a reasonable belief that fraud may be occurring. Where fraud is reasonably believed to have occurred, the department will conduct a thorough investigation, and as part of its investigative process will obtain independent documents, such as court records, to determine if a fraud has occurred.

The procedures and tools employed by Investigations in detecting, deterring and preventing abuse of funds are constantly being reviewed, refined and enhanced. LAOs goal is to be become a more effective and efficient investigative body by improving resources, access to documents, reducing systemic impediments and detecting new Red Flags for potential abuse by clients and lawyers.

Investigations will take action to recover funds, where probative evidence gathered during the course of an investigation causes a reasonable belief that, a misappropriation of assets, fraud and/or anther offence has occurred.. The department also recommends a course of action, which may include removal from LAOs lawyer panel, reporting lawyers to the Law Society of Upper Canada and/or referring the matter to the police.

Fact Sheet - Investigations

2007-08 Investigations Department Annual Report Highlights

  • 272 investigative files were opened in 2007-08 and 223 files were concluded with 49 files ongoing for 2008-09.

Overpayment Recovery:

Source Amount
Duty Counsel overpayment $35,440.37
Lawyer billing during suspension $16,351.70
Audit identified overpayment $234,038.26
Miscellaneous $62.32
Total: $285,892.66

Lawyer Investigations:

  • Online billing privileges were suspended for 24 lawyers.
  • 15 lawyers were reported to the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC), 13 of those billed LAO during a LSUC suspension.
  • One lawyer was reported to the Toronto Police Service Fraud Squad for Fraud Over $5,000 and is currently under police investigation.

Client Investigations:

  • 38 client financial eligibility files were opened, with 11 files remaining open into 2008-09.
  • Six certificates were not issued to clients, including one designated as Big Case Management. This resulted in savings of $69,000 - $84,000.

Employee Investigations:

  • One employee was charged with Theft Over $5,000 and subsequently terminated with cause. The matter is currently before the courts.
  • The second employee investigation involved the delayed deposit of cash receipts from client payments. As there was insufficient evidence to warrant employee discipline, policies and procedures concerning cash receipts were reviewed with all staff at the office.