Setting it Straight One More Time: The ‘Why’ and ‘Who’ behind the ‘Departure’ of Sault Fire Chief

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If former Sault fire chief Mike Figliola faces any jail time if he is convicted on the charges he faces of fraud, uttering a forged document and breach of trust by a public officer, it seems to me it could be considered a travesty of justice.
Because that is how low the bar has been set by previous sentences levied in the District of Algoma.
Think about it.
Jeff Holmes, the former chief financial officer of Algoma Public Health, never spent a day in jail for stealing $434,000 from the institution over a seven-year period. In 2015 he was handed a conditional sentence of two years less a day followed by 18 months probation.
Cynthia Jacobs, who as an employee of the University of Algoma defrauded the institution of $391,000 over a six-year period, was sentenced in 2014 to a conditional sentence of two years less a day followed by three years probation.
If they didn’t spend a day in jail for stealing such huge amounts, Figliola certainly shouldn’t for the amount involved in the charges against him, a piddly $1,080.39 claimed for attendance at the annual convention of the Ontario Association of Fire chiefs that he allegedly didn’t attend.
Some may point to the charge of breach of trust by a public officer as being a significant factor in Figliola’s case. I can agree with that assessment, but then I also have to point out that Holmes, as chief financial officer of a public institution, surely would have fit in that category.
And when it comes to breach of trust by a public official, the maximum penalty of five years is less than that for fraud, 14 years if more than $5,000 is involved, and forgery, 10 years. However, the latter two can also be subject to summary conviction.
You may be wondering why I am writing here at all, since I said a couple of weeks back that I was putting this column on pause.
It is simply because a Page 1 headline and story in The Sault Star on Aug. 3 caught my interest. The headline asked who ignited the probe into Figliola, who had parted company with the city in May after only two years on the job, and the story gave the idea the paper had no details on what led to Figliola’s departure and the followup charges.
I had had a lengthy interview with the person The Star is wondering about and laid out what led to the charges in a column on June 10. Since it is obvious from The Star’s story that the word didn’t get around, I thought it worth repeating the circumstances.
Through a FOI request my source, who wishes to remain anonymous, received a copy of a document that revealed Figliola had estimated the cost of attending the conference would be $1,848.75, $200 for gasoline, $600 for lodging, $895 for the registration fee and $153.75 for meals.
But when he actually submitted his expense sheet he only claimed $1,080.39 as he indicated the registration fee of $895 had been waived.
Figliola spent seven nights at the Best Western Hotel at the Toronto Airport for a total cost of $783.09 and claimed $297.54 for gasoline fill-ups, two in Mississauga and one each in Parry Sound, Etobicoke and McKerrow.
He did not claim anything for meals.
On the travel report space on the back of the expense form, which asked for a description of the benefits obtained from the travel as well as a statement of whether or not the objectives were met, Figliola wrote:
“Annual conference of Ont. Fire Chiefs to discuss best practices, new emerging trends in training operations and equipment.
“Staffing, (unintelligible) and financial trends for fire service sustainability.”
My source had gotten into the website of the Ontario Fire Chiefs and printed out a sheet showing that six Michaels registered for the conference but none had the last name Figliola.
Considering the secrecy that had surrounded the investigation conducted by Detective Inspector Rob Matthews with the OPP Criminal Investigation Branch, with no one from the OPP , city police, fire services, or the city itself even prepared to admit that one existed, there were some, myself included, who wondered if anything would come of it.
The investigation only became public when my source provided me with the reply to his Freedom of Information request in which Chief Robert Keetch acknowledged that the Sault Police Service had handed it off to the OPP.
As I had received through a Freedom of Information request the payout afforded the public education officer let go at the fire service after only six weeks on the job, the total coming to $22,258, I had thought the same information would be available in regard to Figliola’s departure.
Not to be.
The city told me that to release any information “would constitute an unjustified invasion of personal privacy if disclosed.”
What is the difference between the two in regard to personal privacy, you are probably asking, as I did.
Jeffrey King, solicitor/prosecutor in the city’s legal department, told me the fire chief’s case is not as straight forward as that of the public educator, where it had been decided the job was not required at this time and she was let go.
He said there was information in the material regarding the departure of the fire chief, where there was some conjecture over whether he was fired or, as the city prefers to say, the two simply had ended their employment relationship, that could affect Figliola’s personal life and future employment prospects.
This would seem to be borne out in the body of King’s reply to my FOI request in which I asked:
“I am requesting a copy of any letter of agreement between the City of Sault Ste. Marie and former fire chief Mike Figliola in regard to the two agreeing to part company. I am seeking information regarding the payout Figliola received from the city for leaving his position as fire chief. I would like to know whether it was a lump sum payment and how much or whether it was broken down in wages, vacation pay and cash in lieu of notice.”
King said the documents were not being provided under the following statutory authorities:
“Sections 14(1) and 14(3) of the (FOI) Act, as it concerns personal information about someone other than the requester that would constitute an unjustified invasion of personal privacy if disclosed specifically, 14(3)(d) and (f) relating to employment history and personal finances.
“Futher, we opine that the Act is not applicable to the documents received pursuant to Section 52(3) of the Act, since the documents are a product of negotiations or consultations about employment-related matters.”
So, as I said in my June 3 column, we will have to live with the rumour that Figliola departed with an extra $100,000 in his pocket, a statement that to this point has brought no denial.
However, my central point in this piece is that I cannot see how Figliola can face any jail time if convicted in light of the light sentences handed out to Holmes and Jacobs.
After all, he will be able to argue that he has also suffered plenty already with the loss of his job and livelihood and restitution will not be a problem.
Doug Millroy can be reached at dmillroy@gmail.com.

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