Seven weeks before a man calling himself Shaun Rothberg was hired as Algoma Public Health's interim chief financial officer, Dr. Kim Barker knew his real name was Shaun Rootenberg, a just-released KPMG forensic audit claims.
Rootenberg had previously done time at Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst for multiple counts of fraud involving more than $2 million.
He was hired by Dr. Barker on Nov. 25, 2013, for $3,950 (plus HST) a week, through Toronto-based recruiting firm Rhulse26 Consulting.
Rootenberg worked for APH for six months, overseeing $23 million in annual expenditures and $25 million in capital assets.
A search of APH records by KPMG found that Barker and Rootenberg had been communicating with each other by email since July 29, 2013, about four months before he was hired.
In one communication sent on Oct. 8, Barker had referred to Rothberg as Rootenberg.
The confidential audit report, released to SooToday late Thursday after four years of legal wrangling, quotes Barker as telling KPMG investigators:
- while she was not in an intimate relationship with Rothberg at the time of the emails, her hope was that one would develop
- Barker believed that if Rothberg was provided with employment in Sault Ste. Marie, the likelihood of a relationship between her and Rothberg would increase
- the nature of the relationship between her and Rothberg was not disclosed to the board of APH prior to his appointment as interim chief financial officer but should have been disclosed
- Barker went on to characterize her failure to do so as a "complete lack of judgment"
The KPMG investigation didn't determine exactly when Dr. Barker learned of Rootenberg's criminal past.
Rootenberg refused to co-operate fully with the forensic audit and KPMG commented that this limited its ability to get his side of the story.
The KPMG investigators found no payments to Rhulse 26 that seemed have personally benefited Rootenberg.
Daughter of the beloved Canadian cartoonist Ben Wicks, Barker arrived in Sault Ste. Marie in August 2013 as APH's chief executive officer and medical officer of health.
After further details were exposed, Barker submitted her resignation, forensic audits were ordered by both APH and the provincial government, and four members of the APH board including Ward 4 Coun. Marchy Bruni were asked by Ontario's health minister to resign.
Additional fallout, devastating for a small city seeking economic development prospects, included abandonment of a major redevelopment proposed for the former Gateway site and of a planned medical marijuana grow-op facility, both initiatives involving Rootenberg.
After Algoma Public Health, Mayor Christian Provenzano, former MPP David Orazietti and former Minister of Health Dr. Eric Hoskins all called for the secret report to be made public, SooToday made a freedom-of-information request in May 2015.
Our application was ultimately successful, but through a succession of legal appeals, Dr. Barker fought for four years to keep the document from becoming public, arguing that it contained deeply personal information that she provided to KPMG on the understanding it would never be made public.
Barker's battle finally ended on Dec. 19, 2019 when the Supreme Court of Canada refused her final appeal bid.
An unredacted copy of the full 26-page report was turned over to SooToday at 4:52 p.m. Thursday.
Dr. Barker responds
On Friday, Barker issued an apology to her former colleagues at Algoma Public Health but insisted the KPMG report was riddled with inaccuracies.
"My attempt to keep certain elements of the KPMG report private began after my concerns about its inaccuracies and misrepresentations went unaddressed," she said in a written statement.
"I felt it would not serve the public interest to have unreliable information on the public record. While my decision to hire the interim chief financial officer at Algoma Public Health was clearly misguided, my overriding objective was always to find an expedient short-term solution to the health unit’s pressing financial issues. I deeply regret that decision and the potential risks it presented for Algoma Public Health. I want to apologize to all those affected by these events, in particular, my former colleagues and the communities they serve."
Speaking to SooToday in a brief telephone conversation on Friday, Barker said she was called by the investigators on a Sunday and asked to attend a brief interview.
She said she went without witnesses, a recording device or legal representation, and was flabbergasted by what she said were inaccuracies when she finally saw the full KPMG report.
The investigators also made no electronic recording of the session and half of what was attributed to her was incorrect, she said, declining to specify which statements were inaccurate.
After leaving Sault Ste. Marie, Barker was hired in January 2016 as chief medical officer of health for the Arctic territory of Nunavut.
Shaun Rootenberg got into legal difficulties after departing the Sault, charged with fraud over $5,000 when funds were allegedly taken from women he met on the eHarmony dating site.
Rootenberg, who could not be reached by SooToday for comment on the KPMG findings, was also named in civil litigation launched by Toronto billionaire Barry Sherman over his alleged involvement in a mobile-trivia app project headed by Ron Hulse of Rhulse26 Consulting.
Reached Friday by SooToday, Hulse said he's one of a "growing number of victims of a professional conman... who took advantage of me and my belief in the importance of second chances."
"I have closed this chapter and see no advantage of revisiting it four years later," Hulse said.
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