Op-Ed| Algoma Public Health: Shut the Front Door!

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*Since the discovery of Shaun Rootenberg’s true identity while serving as interim CFO at Algoma Public Health Unit, Sault Ste. Marie MPP requested a forensic audit to be conducted by the Ministry of Health and APH has initiated a forensic audit through KPMG. Both audits will be completed independently of one another.

Loyal Northern Hoot readers may have noticed that my previous two articles on the Algoma Public Health scandal have disappeared. They focused on Shaun Rootenberg, who presented himself as Shaun Rothberg while working as the Chief Financial Officer at APH for a six month contract. Mr. Rootenberg is a convicted criminal, who went on a crime-spree that started in 2007 and ended in 2009, involving multiple victims, millions of dollars, and numerous criminal charges (see below).

Apparently, Mr. Rootenberg didn’t take kindly to my treatment of the subject matter in which he played an integral role. So, the articles have come down, and an apology was issued. From here on in, you will only find verified, sourced statements of fact coming from this cat, where he is concerned.

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Mr. Rootenberg’s first string of victims included an ex-girlfriend, an old college buddy, and another close friend, to the tune of $850,000. After being arrested on those charges, Rootenberg’s own brother, a respected forensic psychiatrist who was involved in very high-profile case that involved a murder and dismemberment on a Greyhound bus, helped raise half of the $150,000 bail to get his brother out of jail.

After getting out on bail with the help of his brother, Shaun Rootenberg then defrauded his brother to the tune of $1.2 million dollars, and was charged with multiple criminal offences, which landed him right back in prison. Mr. Rootenberg was being sought on Canada-wide warrants, and was reported to have spent $550,000 of the ill-gotten funds within a week. Mr. Rootenberg was reported to be living out of his 2006 Mercedes SUV at different points during this crime-spree, and frequented expensive hotels and fancy restaurants.

But it didn’t end there. After serving his time and getting day parole, Mr. Rootenberg landed himself back in hot water, after violating the conditions of his parole. He was told to steer clear of financial dealings, but ran afoul of the parole board who stated, “The deception evident in your interactions with your case management team is similar to the behaviour involved in your criminal activities.” This conclusion was reached in July of 2010.

Some may wonder why it is relevant to bring up all these details again. I think it is important for people to understand that all of this was not just a ‘single mistake’, and it wasn’t ‘ancient history’, because roughly three years after violating his day parole, Mr. Rootenberg waltzed right through the front doors of the Algoma Public Health office and bold-faced lied about who he was. He used the name Shaun Rothberg, and this deception was not discovered until well after his six month contract with APH was finished. He was placed in a position of great trust, overseeing an agency with an annual budget of more than $20 million a year, and nobody had a clue who he was, or what his background was.

Until very recently, I would have thought there was something straight-up illegal about getting yourself a job under a fictitious name, but according to our local constabulary, they detect nothing illegal in those actions alone. Of course, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to get a job this way, because the whole idea of finding work is to get paid for it, and how are you going to cash a paycheque issued under a phony name? Apparently, Mr. Rootenberg had that part figured out, and it appears there was nothing illegal about it, so it’s all good!

The details are still a little fuzzy on how Mr. Rootenberg managed to work and get paid as Shaun Rothberg, but thanks to the excellent work of David Helwig, we can glean clues as to how this was done. First, you need a professional consultant, like Ron Hulse of Mindspan Recruiting Inc. out of Toronto to vouch for you, and introduce you under a phony name to the prospective employer. The money can flow to the consulting firm under one name, then flow back to you under your real name, so you can get paid. Second, you need a CAO, like Dr. Kim Barker of Algoma Public Health, who won’t bother to check your credentials, but will recommend you for hire, based solely on verbal information. Now, you have the job, and the means to get paid, and no one knows who you really are – you’re good to go!

You know, I was always under the impression that people had to carry ID on them while out in public. Maybe I watch too much American TV, or my knowledge has become outdated – I just don’t know. But did you know that unless you are operating a vehicle in Ontario, you don’t have to carry ID around, and you don’t even have to identify yourself to police when asked? Of course, exercising those rights may make for a really long day down at a police station somewhere, but you don’t actually have to identify yourself, and there is no law against withholding that information. Imagine that!

So, there’s nothing illegal about getting a job in Ontario under a fake name, and police can’t even ask that individual for their identification, in order to verify who they are! Call me crazy, but I think there’s a very large problem here – don’t you? While it may not be illegal, I still hold it as highly unethical and potentially dangerous that we can’t even be sure that people are who they claim to be.

How do we prevent someone else from doing what Mr. Rootenberg did? How do we maintain integrity and transparency in our community, if we can’t demand the truth from people, or have it enforced by police? Right now, in Sault Ste. Marie, how do we know that there isn’t some other person employed within our local agencies and organizations, using a fake name? What if they are in a position of trust? What if their background suggests a possible threat to those who have entrusted them? What, as regular citizens, are we supposed to do, to ensure that we know who we are dealing with?

Sure, I know – it looks like I might be on the hyperbole wagon again. The vast majority of agencies and offices in town have clear policies and procedures in place to verify the identity of employees, do criminal background checks, and look for references. But if the Algoma Public Health can fumble the ball so badly and allow a convicted fraudster to operate within their ranks for six months completely undetected, then how do we really feel secure about any of our public interests?

You know, I always took comfort in the fact that our City Council places members on boards and committees all over town. I thought that it would give us a layer of security and accountability that would prevent such scandals, but in the case of Mr. Rootenberg and the APH, there were members of Council on that Board, and they didn’t have a clue. Even when another Board member asked for information about Mr. ‘Rothberg’, it went ignored.

So, what’s the point of having Council members on these boards and committees, if they don’t even know who they are talking to, who they are dealing with? Forgive me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there supposed to be more to the idea of having Council members sit on boards, than sitting in a meeting once in a while, and partaking in the snacks and buffets that often accompany such gatherings? Aren’t they supposed to be ‘guardians of the public trust’ or something to that effect?

I don’t mean to get negative and cynical about City Council, especially in light of recent events.  Our new Mayor, Christian Provenzano, in addition to some new faces on Council (Mr. Shoemaker the most notable among them), have embarked upon a path to heightened transparency and accountability down at City Hall. They are bringing in new policy, and putting the brakes on appointments to boards and committees being done in secret. They will be recording all the back-room dealings that the public doesn’t get to see, in case the Ombudsman wants to investigate something that happens. That’s all really encouraging stuff, but does it deal with the specific problem right in front of us? No, it doesn’t. Maybe, when they are reworking the policy that has stood since 1982, they can look at some of the other aspects of the role played by Council on such Boards, and plug a few more holes.

Everybody seems to be pinning all their hopes for resolution of this matter on audits being conducted at the Algoma Public Health. People seem to think that an audit is the ‘nuclear option’, the ‘ultimate solution’ – but is it really?

Not according to Sam Antar, a convicted fraudster who turned his life around and now takes direct aim at white collar crime. Using his expertise, and a ‘takes one to know one’ approach, Mr. Antar now uses his knowledge of the ‘game’ to take down other frauds. And according to Mr. Antar, audits are not always successful in detecting white collar crime. In fact, they have serious deficiencies, which are discussed on his website, found here. There is also a lot of other really great information that can be found in his material that you may find intriguing!

So, we can’t count on the law, we can’t force people to admit who they are, we can’t speak too negatively about con artists without risking a lawsuit. We can’t count on our leaders (at least not yet) to sniff out trouble, and there isn’t a whole lot we can do, as average citizens, to protect ourselves. So, what is the answer? How do we ensure that the public interest is protected, that we are living in an honest, forthright society where we all hold each other accountable, in order to serve the greater good?

The answer, my friends, is to keep talking about it. Don’t let it go. Don’t let it fade into memory. We don’t want to be sitting around a few years from now, and see headlines splash across the screen, where someone else is defrauded, some other scandal breaks open, because we were too complacent, didn’t care enough to dedicate certain facts to memory. Don’t forget what happened here, and don’t let our leaders forget it, either. Regardless of what the audits reveal or don’t reveal, keep the pressure on. Talk about it in your workplace, within your circle of family and friends. In the words of Sam Antar, we should all, “Learn to exercise professional paranoia. Do not trust. Just verify.” Wise words to heed, in this day and age.

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