The LCBO affair

Today’s National Post expands upon a segment of Monday evening’s six o’clock news program on Global TV about a fired LCBO accountant who has launched a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the Ontario wine and beer crown corporation, alleging millions of dollars of funds have been misappropriated. I have reprinted the National Post article in full below.
The article speaks for itself. There’s not enough detail for me to analyze the situation in a meaningful way, other than for me to say that rumours have swirled around the LCBO for years among journalists of possible mismanagement and outright corruption at the organization. Yet no one has ever had enough solid material to go to press, especially in the wake of a libel chill that has most news organizations only printing or going to air with material that is “bullet proof” — meaning it must be of the same quality as a sworn affidavit to withstand a possible legal challenge. Obviously, there are a lot of great stories that don’t get to press because of this situation.
Media critics may be glad about that, but in fact the famous fifth estate has its hands tied in Canada at the moment, and this is only abetting the interests of crooked politicians and powerful businesspeople. If Watergate were to occur today, I doubt the lawyers for the Washington Post would go to press with the investigative journalists’ copy. they wouldn’t be allowed to reveal things as they encountered them; the whole story would have had to be told at once, and Deep throat would have had to sign a sworn affidavit. Unlikely.
Anyway, this most recent scandal to hit the LCBO may or may not signal the beginning of the unravelling of the status quo at the moribund organization. I hope so, but we’ll have to wait for details from the court case to see.
(Note: On Wednesday I will be in Toronto meeting with a trade association about redesign of its website, and reviewing final proofs of our magazine. I won’t enter another Blog entry until Thursday.)

Fired LCBO accountant alleges money missing
Files $800,000 lawsuit

Leslie Roberts and Kelly Patrick
Global News Hour and National Post
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
An accountant fired by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario alleges the arms-length government corporation may have misplaced as much as $55-million, Global News Hour reported yesterday.
John Alexopoulos, the LCBO’s manager of retail accounting from April, 1998, until November of last year, says he lost his job for repeatedly pointing out “discrepancies” in the provincial alcohol retailer’s books, according to a lawsuit filed last month.
“I observed that there were some discrepancies between warehouse shipments and retail store receipts,” he said in an interview broadcast last night.
“I was off balance on a daily basis. I felt as if somebody was trying to put me off balance on a daily basis.”
Citing the legal action, officials with the LCBO refused an interview request. But in a written statement, the liquor retailer said it is “confident in the integrity of its inventories.”
The Ontario government owns the LCBO and oversees its near-monopoly on liquor sales. Its profits are poured into provincial coffers.
In an $800,000 wrongful-dismissal suit filed on Jan. 19 in Ontario Superior Court, Mr. Alexopoulos says that even after he put his concerns about the missing money in writing, his supervisor refused to investigate the problem.
The allegations contained in the lawsuit have not been proven in court.
“On or about March 11, 2005, the plaintiff submitted a project report to his supervisor analyzing the defendant’s system of inventory regarding its product warehouse and retail outlets, after having expressed his concern from time to time,” the lawsuit reads.
“The plaintiff reported that the defendant was experiencing annual inventory shortages between warehouse shipments and retail outlet receipts in the range of between $16-million and $55-million.”
Mr. Alexopoulos reached the figure after examining the numbers at 21 of the province’s liquor outlets, then extrapolating for the LCBO’s more than 600 stores, Global News Hour reported.
The lawsuit says that after Mr. Alexopoulos submitted the report, “harassment and criticism from his supervisor intensified and created a poisoned workplace environment.”
The suit also says Mr. Alexopoulos was diagnosed in September, 2004, with “reactive depression and generalized panic disorder,” a condition the suit says was caused by job-related stress and prompted him to take two medical leaves from the LCBO.
The Ontario Progressive Conservatives are calling for a full investigation.
© National Post 2006