NEWS

Victor Mema fired over personal expenses scandal

Termination of Nanaimo’s finance chief closes one chapter in a year-long saga of credit card abuse and an elaborate cover-up
Victor Mema
Victor Mema
Victor Mema has been fired from his job as the City of Nanaimo’s chief financial officer (CFO) over a personal expenses scandal, it has been confirmed.

Nanaimo city council made the decision to terminate Mr. Mema at an in-camera council meeting on Friday. It is understood that council handed him its harshest sanction — immediate termination without severance pay.

City human resources director John Van Horne said: “I can advise that he is no longer the CFO for the City of Nanaimo. Beyond that, the City won’t be making any other comment on this matter.”

The decision will likely unnerve suspended city manager Tracy Samra, who played a leading role in the expenses scandal and also faces possible termination later this month.

She was due to appear in court on Tuesday to face a peace bond application for allegedly uttering threats against this reporter, three council members and five current and former city employees during a Jan. 31 incident at city hall.

However, her appearance was rescheduled Monday morning for a fourth time to June 5.

Mr. Mema, 45, was invited to address Friday’s closed-door council meeting at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. He was present but let his lawyer make representations on his behalf.

After getting the news about council’s decision, he left Nanaimo in his white Mercedes for his home in North Vancouver.

Although he has informed close associates about his firing, he has not updated his LinkedIn profile to show that he is no longer employed at the city.

Victor Mema's Mercedes
Victor Mema’s vehicle was seen downtown on Friday

Year-long saga

Mr. Mema’s axing closes one chapter in a year-long saga involving an elaborate cover-up of the CFO’s repeated use of a city-issued credit card for personal items, including vacation expenses.

City staff have identified at least 64 personal charges by the finance chief over a 17-month period thought to total about $14,000.

All personal expenses on city credit or purchase cards are considered violations of city policies and serious abuses can result in termination. Employees are required to immediately reimburse the city for any personal expenses.

In early 2017, Mr. Mema bounced a cheque he wrote to cover about $7,000 in personal vacation expenses he had billed to his city purchase card, sources have said.

Ms. Samra sought to help Mr. Mema by arranging a highly unusual retroactive living expenses allowance for him worth $7,200, according to city records. The arrangement is unprecedented at the city.

She also approved the city extending credit to Mr. Mema for his personal expenses through a special receivable account that functioned much like an interest-free line of credit.

Mr. Mema paid off his debt to the city over time through $500 payroll deductions.

Tracy Samra
City manager Tracy Samra gave Mema an unusual living expenses deal and promoted him as her deputy

Despite knowing that her CFO had violated city financial policies, the city manager promoted him in March 2017 as her deputy and boosted his salary by 10 percent.

When the CFO continued using his card for personal items, staff members who tried to blow the whistle on Mr. Mema were targeted for retaliation.

Mr. Mema also appointed two former colleagues from Alberta above long-time members of the city’s finance department.

Media requests for Ms. Samra and Mr. Mema’s credit card records under freedom of information laws were obstructed, it has been alleged.

After it emerged that Mr. Mema was being sued by his former employer, the District of Sechelt, for almost $10,000 in personal expenses on its credit card, Ms. Samra once again defended her deputy.

She commissioned a study by KPMG of all instances where staff in the past 10 years had reimbursed the city for personal expenses on a city credit card. This was done to justify her own and Mr. Mema’s personal charges.

The expenses study has not been made public but sources say it found no examples comparable to Mr. Mema or Ms. Samra’s personal charges.

Finally on March 1 this year, city council suspended Mr. Mema with pay after receiving a complaint from a union member in the finance department.

Victor Mema
Mr. Mema at a council meeting earlier this year

The city’s auditors KPMG last week presented findings related to the scandal to council’s finance and audit committee.

They reported that there had been failures in governance, expense controls, hiring practices and that staff who complained were punished with disciplinary letters in their files.

Mr. Mema joined the city in September 2015 as director of finance on a salary of $136,245. In June 2016, Ms. Samra promoted him to chief financial officer and upped his pay to $166,601.

During his tenure in Nanaimo his expenses amounted to more than $30,000.

No announcement has been made on when the city will seek a new CFO. Laura Mercer, the city’s manager of accounting services, is currently filling Mr. Mema’s role as “financial officer” for the city, a position required under provincial law. She has worked in the city’s finance department for the past 16 years.

Termination from the city is unlikely to be the only outcome of the scandal for Mr. Mema. Last week, members of the board of the Canadian Association of Government Finance Officers met to discuss Mr. Mema’s position as treasurer of the organization.

Association president Lorrie Schmalenberg told News Nanaimo on Friday that members of her board were awaiting more information on Mr. Mema’s status at the city before deciding whether to ask him to stand down from the board.

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  • A few questions that the public deserve answers to. Has Mema been paid for all the time he was suspended and will council ask the new CAO to pursue reimbursement? Have all personal expenses been repaid to the city WITH interest? If not will this council instruct the new CAO to pursue suitable compensation/reimbursement? Will council also instruct the new CAO to seek repayment of any slush fund (unauthorized living expenses etc) payments to Mema by Samra? Will council also instruct the new CAO to pursue criminal charges if applicable? Will this council make public any investigation report? Why was a councillor defending Mema’s activity on open facebook while he was part of the group that needed to vote on whether this man should be fired? Shame Shame……

    • So all we get is a BS Statement on this from the Mayor and Council but what gets me is they added: “We wish him well in future endeavours.” Really? Are you folks for real? I wonder of you will also give him a good reference so he can pull the same shit on the taxpayers of another municipality? I think you are all a bunch of wishy washy cowards.

      • This idea that this fumbling incompetent council can now hide behind the “no further comment due to the fact that it involves personnel” is pure bullshit! Why is the City (or this council) worried about getting sued for firing an employee for just cause? Where is the legal REQUIREMENT that prohibits this council from letting the public have the facts and truth of the whole matter. Oh right they just make up their own rules and then hide behind them. Absolute BS and the public should insist on each candidate running for office to take a stand on this come election time. It’s time for the paying public to make the rules and force these wishy washy cowards to either put up or get out of our faces with your rhetoric and bullshit. It’s just a convenient way for the majority on this council to hide behind self serving policies and rules. I know of NO LAW against telling the public the truth. Instead these bozos wish him well…… LOL.

    • Anon1 – I agree with all your questions 100% As taxpayers, we need to start a writing campaign and bombard the Mayor and Council with these questions EVERY DAY. It’s not enough that this thief gets to slink away with no consequences!! Shame, shame is right!!

    • I couldn’t agree more. I would also hope there are a lot of new faces in the Mayor’s and Councillors’ chairs following the municipal election this October and the new council undertake a full review of the actions and decisions of The Group of Five to determine whether civil or criminal liability was involved and, if so, take appropriate action; especially to recoup financial losses accrued to public accounts and, ultimately, the taxpayer.

  • Who does he think he is? No regard for hard working taxpayers. Shame. Made the right decision not get rid of the other ‘entitled person. Our community of money (tax dollars) requires a level of consciousness about the origins of tax dollars. Obviously these two don’t care.

  • “Members of the board of the Canadian Association of Government Finance Officers met to discuss Mr. Mema’s position as treasurer of the organization.” It says something about the integrity of an association that, ironically, has a Mr Sticky Fingers as its treasurer. It’s not just Nanaimo. Hadn’t they heard about Sechelt?

  • How does it happen that a peace bond application is delayed for so long? It is extremely simple, and in this case the gift of a lifetime to Ms. Samra. Does the Crown not know that Ms. Samra continues to reap her ill-gotten gains? Why is the Crown not objecting to what appears to be a undue delay, prompted by cynicism, approaching the level of being an abuse of the Court’s process? Is the Special Prosecutor too far away to see or care what is happening?

    • Hopefully Nanaimo Council will not defer CAO’s immediate dismissal without severance due to her ragging out the Court process.

  • I hope the “Toxic Tracy” saga comes to an end before this council term is ended.
    It will only be over when the Floundering Five are voted out.
    They are the root of all this malevolence.

    • Given the no contact/no go conditions of the current Recognizance, why not summon the CAO to appear before Council by televideoconferencing, rather than waiting for yet another defence-initiated adjournment? Council could, through its legal counsel, seek leave of the Court to waive the current conditions temporarily to allow her to state whatever case she have against immediate dismissal without severance.

      It could be made clear to Ms Samra any failure to attend the special in camera on the date specified will constitute her waiving of her right to appear before Council and that she and her counsel will be advised of the decision by double registered mail. Or might this be too logical and unconvoluted?

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