Lawyers for the former president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union say allegations of financial improprieties in a lawsuit launched by the union are untrue.
OPSEU is seeking nearly $6 million it alleges was unlawfully transferred to former president Warren (Smokey) Thomas, former first vice-president/treasurer Eduardo Almeida and former financial services administrator Maurice Gabay, as well as millions more in damages.
OPSEU said since Thomas and Almeida left their positions last April, the union has been doing a forensic audit.
The union alleges it has uncovered that Thomas and Almeida paid themselves “significant compensation” they weren’t entitled to, used union money for non-business purposes, transferred union vehicles to themselves or family members and paid out strike fund cash to themselves and Gabay.
The allegations have not been tested in court.
Jeffrey Kroeker and Frank Portman, co-counsel for Thomas, said in a statement Tuesday that the statement of claim is “riddled with errors, falsehoods, and untrue allegations.”
“Mr. Thomas rejects the claim against him and intends to defend his good name,” the lawyers wrote.
Kroeker and Portman say Thomas served as OPSEU president “faithfully and proudly” for 15 years. They say Thomas was hailed as a “tough but fair leader” with a reputation for being honest, caring and someone who always put the interests of his members and his union first.
“That will never change,” said Kroeker and Portman.
“Through his lawyers, Mr. Thomas is reviewing all legal options available to him and will shortly respond. Until Mr. Thomas files a defence, he will make no further comment about the bogus claims against him or the motives and politics behind it.”
Almeida and Gabay could not be reached for comment and it is unclear if they have retained lawyers or have filed statements of defence.
Unions says 2 execs breached their duties
OPSEU alleges there were more than $1 million in charges to the corporate credit cards of the three defendants that didn’t come with supporting documentation to show they were for legitimate business purposes.
The union alleges Thomas and Almeida also entered into “settlement agreements” with OPSEU for $500,000 each for inappropriate purposes in the months leading up to their departures.
Thomas’ agreement was purportedly to settle a complaint he filed alleging “discrimination and harassment” against OPSEU’s board and claiming damages for “injuries to his feelings, dignity and self-worth,” the statement of claim says.
Almeida’s settlement was purportedly to settle a claim for “defamation, intentional interference with economic relations, intention infliction of mental suffering and civil conspiracy,” the statement of claim says.
“These agreements were not known to or authorized by the executive board at the time,” OPSEU alleges in its lawsuit.
“Thomas and Almeida acted beyond the scope of their authority and breached their duties to the union. They conspired and colluded with one another to cause OPSEU/SEFPO pay to themselves and others significant sums, which were unwarranted, unreasonable and inappropriate.”
Current OPSEU president JP Hornick wrote in an update to members Monday that the allegations are “troubling.”
“I want to be clear to you. Our staff and members, and the people of Ontario who we dutifully serve, that we will not waiver in our commitment to seeking justice in this matter, and we have the full support of the Board to pursue all available legal avenues,” Hornick wrote.