Nice work if you can get it

KATHLEEN HARRIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:04 AM ET

Ottawa -- The RCMP has been called in to investigate Canada's former prisoners' ombudsman Ron Stewart, a CFL Hall of Famer who reaped a fat salary for enjoying downtime at his island cottage and billed taxpayers for taking in Grey Cup games.

In a damning report reminiscent of the George Radwanski case, Auditor Gen eral Sheila Fraser exposed a litany of "serious abuses and wrong doing" by Stewart, a star half back for the Ottawa Rough Riders before his 26 years as Correctional Investigator. Forensic auditors revealed Stewart racked up at least $325,000 in improper spending and unearned pay, including 319 days he was absent in the six years studied.

"Obviously he was not at his office a lot and received wages for work he didn't do," Fraser said.

'PAID' VACATION

Stewart cashed out $83,000 for 157 vacation day not taken for 14 years straight, even though he was up at his electricity - and phone-free summer residence from April to October each year -- accessible only by boat. Auditors scrutinized gas expenses and cellphone records to determine the "very conservative" estimate of unreported absences, an official told Sun Media.

The audit also found Stewart wined and dined friends and family at taxpayers' expense, bought two computers for his family and billed it to the office, and took personal trips to Grey Cup games, his high school reunion and a Canadian Sports Hall of Fame dinner at public expense.

Blasting Stewart for shirking his duties, Fraser would not say whet her she found evidence of criminal wrongdoing but confirmed she referred the file to the RCMP about a year ago. Treasury Board President John Baird called the Stewart legacy "an abomination."

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, whose department oversees the Correctional Investigator, said the government will make every effort to recoup all misappropriated funds.

The same special adviser that stepped in to recover funds after the Radwanski scandal has been appointed to recover misspent public dollars.

"Everything that can be done will be done," Day said.

The scathing auditor's report also found employees in the Correctional Investigator's office received undeserved overtime pay and bonuses. Disturbed by how long the Stewart wrongdoing persisted unchecked, Fraser concluded proper oversight was not provided by relevant government bodies or by the agency's executive director.

Stewart, who set the CFL's single-game rushing record when he was with the Rough Riders, was hired as Correctional Investigator in 1977. After several reappointments to the job, which pays up to $143,000 plus bonuses, he retired in October 2003.

Anonymous tipsters reported wrongdoing after his departure. NDP MP Pat Martin wondered how many other cases of " wretched excess" are still out there, and urged parliamentary committees to probe the Correctional Investigator's office to determine how the wrongdoing persisted for so long.

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FORMER GRIDIRON STAR'S FANCY FINANCIAL FOOTWORK

Among the auditor general's findings on excorrectional investigator Ron Stewart for the six year audit period:

- Improper payments totalling $198,000 and questionable payments of about $127,000

- Reaped $83,000 in unearned salary

- Cashed out $95,000 in annual leave

- Spent 258 work days at his summer residence without conducting business

- Twelve of 16 trips where travel expenses were claimed were found to be "personal" -- he was reimbursed $7,000 for ineligible travel claims including five to cities hosting the Grey Cup championship, four to Kingston, one to Toronto, one to his high school reunion and one to a Canadian Sports Hall of Fame dinner

- Was often absent during business days without being engaged in actual business

- Of 80 occasions where he claimed expenses for extending hospitality, 58 were for entertaining relatives, friends and acquaintances to the tune of $5,000

- He did not know how to use a computer, never used one at work and did not have a computer at his office, yet bought two computers worth $8,000 for family members on the office tab

- Understated the taxable benefit of an employersupplied vehicle by at least $28,000 .


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