Hudson’s former director general Louise Léger-Villandré’s surprising guilty plea last week to six of the 19 criminal counts she faced regarding an estimated $1.1 million that went missing from municipal coffers over a 17-year period marks a step in the healing process for the small town shaken in recent years by various financial scandals, ongoing lawsuits and complaints to provincial authorities, says Mayor Ed Prévost.
Prévost, who took office in November 2013 followingLéger-Villandré’s departure earlier that same year, said theguilty plea in her fraud case ends a sad saga for the town of about 5,200 residents.
“As far I am concerned, it’s the start of a healing process.But I don’t think the case is over yet,”the mayor said, alluding to Hudson considering filing civil lawsuits, possibly againstLéger-Villandré or any accomplices, enablers or financial institutions. Léger-Villandré had worked at town hall for over 40 years,
“We are looking at various alternatives,” Prévost said. “Quite frankly, I don’t think there is anything there to recoup. On the other hand, whatever she did, there was obviously some cheques going back and forth. So we have a particular interest in trying to retrace were those cheques went, where they were cashed, who cashed them and when. All of these things.”
Prévost said improved scrutiny on financial matters and administrative proceedings are now in place in Hudson, adding the hiring ofdirector generalJean-Pierre Roy and a new treasurer this fall will pay further dividends.
“Nothing is full proof, but it’s as close to full proof as it ever will be,” the mayor said of current checks and balances at town hall.
“Now, every cheque that is written by the town is first of all verified by thetreasurer and the assistant treasurer, after which the treasurer signs the cheque. I’m the last one to sign the cheque. I still have two or three questions every time,” he continued. “The difference between now and then is that MadameVillandré was DG, she wastreasurer, she was also the town clerk and, at one point, she was also in charge of the municipal court for which she was paid a salary as well. That’s how things got through because she was the only one that knew, unless she had accomplices in other areas, which she may well have had, but we don’t know that for sure.”
Prévost reiterated that residents should know the current administration is making sure tax dollars are being spent wisely.
“We’re more anxious about moving ahead for the future than to dwell in the past,” he said. “It’s one chapter and, hopefully, it’s the last chapter of its kind in the history of Hudson.
“If we can get any kind of restitution in that process, you can rest assured that we will do everything and anything to make sure we do,” the mayor added, though he acknowledged residents are taking note of the town’s recent legal bills, which totalled about $95,000 in November.
The mayor noted thatRevenue Quebec executed a court order this past spring to seize Léger-Villandré’s movable property, including a vehicle and furniture. She owes the province about $307,000 in unpaid taxesfollowing a review of income tax returns made between 2008 and 2012.In 2014, Revenue Quebec had obtained a lien on her real-estate holdings, including a house in Hudson.
Roy, who was mandated by council to attendLéger-Villandré’s court appearances, said while there is no trial to hear evidence or testimony, the fact she pleaded guilty to serious charges is useful information for the town.
“We will start to work to see what we can do after,” he said.
“This is big information,” he added. “She has pleaded guilty. Now it’s clear.”
Roy hopes the evidence gathered by the crown will eventually be made public, noting the town will also seek to have seized municipal documents returned. He said he doesn’t yet have enough information to determine if any misappropriated funds could be reclaimed by the town.
Fred Dumoulin, an outspoken resident who launched the Hudson forum blog, said he trusts that the justice system is working fairly, noting that theLéger-Villandrécase has had a significant impact on the town.
“It’s evident that nerves are frayed in Hudson and this case has resulted in closer scrutiny and some level of mistrust in our officials and administration. It’s one of the unfortunate consequences when this type of thing happens,” he told The Montreal Gazette.
Last Thursday, Léger-Villandré, 65, appeared in Quebec Court in Valleyfield and recorded a guilty plea to six of the 19 counts she faced after being arrestedin October 2014 following an investigation by the province’s anti-corruption squad, UPAC. She pleaded guilty to fraud and breach of trust,and creating and using false documentsbetween 1996 and 2013. She returns to court for a sentence hearing Feb. 22.
While Léger-Villandré faces a maximum 14-year prison term based on the counts against her, the fact she doesn’t have any priors will be factored into sentencing, stated crown prosector Mathieu Longpré.
Longpré told reporters thatLéger-Villandré pleaded guiltyto a count of fraud between January 1996 and April 2013, one count of breach of trust during the same time period and four counts of using forged documents. He said discussions about a possible plea bargain were ongoing for months.
Meanwhile, Hudson is facing a lawsuit filed by its former auditors. Last year, Bourassa Boyer Inc. launched a $75,000 claim against Hudson related to outstanding invoices, which town officials had stated went unpaid since the firm failed to fulfill its professional mandate.
Judy Sheehan, a consultant once hired by the town of Hudson, has filed a $25,000 claim against the municipality. Sheehan had invoiced for consultant duties regarding her roll to negotiate a collective agreement with the town’s unionized employees. Catherine Haulard, Hudson’s then director general, had initially recommended council hire Sheehan. Haulard, who was suspended for 10 days this past February but never returned to work at city hall, then filed a lawsuit against the municipality seeking damages for wrongful dismissal.
Last week,town council mandated legal measures against Haulard for the retrieval of a computer they claim she kept in her possession after she stopped working at town hall. As well, council announced the town will be seeking to have Haulard, as a recourse in warranty, included in the damages claim filed against the town by Sheehan.