Cameroonian Toronto charity staff want ‘justice’ after former boss allegedly misappropriated $365K

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Nicole Brockbank, Samantha Beattie · CBC

TORONTO –  The former executive of a Toronto charity that runs a refugee sponsorship program and provides settlement services for newcomers is wanted by police in connection to allegations he misappropriated as much as $365,000 in public funds and donations.

The former director, François Yabit is wanted by police in connection with allegations he misappropriated as much as $365,000 in public funds and donations. Toronto police say an arrest warrant was issued for François Yabit on Dec. 10, 2021, for an offence known as “uttering” a forged document — that is, allegedly using a forged document to commit fraud. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

“Investigators urge him to contact his lawyer and arrange his surrender,” said police spokesperson Caroline de Kloet in an email. The charity Yabit headed, Northwood Neighbourhood Services (NNS), is also under investigation by the City of Toronto and the United Way, its major funders.

Hundreds of pages of internal documents and court filings show that in 2020, when Yabit was the executive director, he allegedly used the charity’s funds to purchase an SUV in his own name, wrote cheques to his wife totaling more than $20,000 for services that staff claim were never provided and loaned a company of which he was a director and shareholder $290,000 to buy a condo.

Employees reported concerns

Yabit was terminated in January 2021 after the board found out about his alleged misconduct, but the city and United Way were only made aware of the situation eight months later, when staff at NNS took it upon themselves to report their concerns and request an independent investigation last September.

A group of employees said they reported what happened to funders because their internal efforts to push for a third-party investigation had gone nowhere. They say they were particularly worried because the chair of the board of directors, Huma Tahir, took over as executive director — despite signing off on the cheques in question and the loan Yabit allegedly misappropriated.

Idrees Sharif was one of those whistleblowers. He worked for NNS as a refugee settlement counsellor for 16 years until, Sharif says, he was fired last month for breaching confidentiality after sending a series of emails to management, staff and former board members pushing for an external investigation.

“We want justice,” Sharif said. “This fight is not easy for us. We have been going through a lot of emotional distress.” NNS runs a refugee sponsorship program that holds millions of dollars in trust from family sponsors, as well as providing settlement services for newcomers and support for seniors in the community. The registered charity was founded 40 years ago and receives most of its more than $1 million in annual funding from a combination of other charities, the City of Toronto and the Ontario government.

After Yabit’s termination on Jan. 29, 2021, the charity sued the former executive director and his company and recovered $305,000, which related to the loan plus interest. But more than $20,000 issued to Yabit’s wife for allegedly unfulfilled service contracts and the 2018 Toyota 4Runner allegedly purchased in his name are still missing. “I feel very discouraged and angry and frustrated,” said Blanca Alvarez, a settlement worker who has been at the charity for nearly two decades. “These events have been happening for more than two years now.”

Tahir, the former board chair, took over as interim executive director after Yabit was let go and

was then appointed by the board to the position full time in November 2021. In a statement, Tahir said she signed the cheques to Yabit’s wife and a Toyota dealership because they had the necessary supporting documentation, and she was not aware the recipient was Yabit’s wife when she signed.

The investigations is on-going.

www.BlackandCanadian.com

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