Les Leyne: Booze run takes down another senior official

Former legislature sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz’s downfall centres mostly on that confounding tale about the pickup truck full of liquor.

It was one of many stories that Speaker Darryl Plecas revealed in his broadside against Lenz and ex-clerk Craig James this year. There were the first-class overseas trips, the lavish expense-account spending and, of course, the ludicrous legislature log splitter purchased with taxpayers’ money in the event of doomsday, which wound up parked in James’s driveway.

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The six-year-old story about the truckload of booze, apparently an open secret among staff for years, turns out to be the one that sealed Lenz’s fate.

On April 22, 2013, James rounded up some staff, and with Lenz present, they loaded up a truck with booze and some furniture and off it went.

Where? Why? It’s still not clear. A new report released late Tuesday shows the festering mystery contributed to the scandalous departure of Lenz, as well as James.

Former justice Beverley McLachlin’s earlier report on the matter fingered James for misconduct, but gave Lenz a pass on how he handled that matter and others.

Plecas, however, commissioned a former chief of the Metro Vancouver Transit Police, Doug Lepard, to take a deeper look. In a 100-page report released late Tuesday, he concluded Lenz was derelict in his duty to investigate whether the booze shipment constituted theft, and Lenz misled McLachlin by not telling the truth when she inquired about it.

Lenz gave up the fight to clear his name last week after getting a look at the report. After it was made public, it’s easy to see why.

Lepard eviscerated his various explanations and pointed out big inconsistencies in the testimony Lenz gave to Justice McLachlin.

Lenz’s reaction to the mysterious booze shipment was so inadequate, it constituted neglect of duty, Lepard said. “I also found that he did not tell the truth in his oral and written evidence to Justice McLachlin … He repeated those untruthful statements in his interview with me.”

Bottom line — “an egregious breach of public trust.”

It unfolded in a bizarre manner. Plecas and other officials told Lepard that Lenz told them on numerous occasions that James “had committed a theft of a large amount of legislative assembly liquor.”

Plecas’s chief of staff, Alan Mullen, also told Lepard that Lenz repeatedly urged the Speaker’s office to report the case to Premier John Horgan, to force James to retire.

The idea of Lenz scheming to get James out of office is in sharp contrast to the picture the pair portrayed for months as two wrongfully accused officials hanging together to protest their innocence.

The vastly more serious part is that when McLachlin sat down with him, Lenz denied he ever made any accusations of theft, and denied he had repeatedly urged officials to use the liquor incident as a reason to dump James.

That’s what he told Lepard, too. Lenz said he assumed James was taking it to the liquor store for a refund. There was also a completely inexplicable alternative offered — that James drove the shipment to Penticton and delivered it to former speaker Bill Barisoff.

There are no circumstances where that makes any sense, but that’s what James said and Lenz apparently bought it.

Lepard waded through testimony of 14 people and concluded that Lenz’s “untruthful oral and written statements to Justice McLachlin and oral statements to me … constitute very serious misconduct.”

Also noteworthy was the handling of the whole spending scandal by the premier’s office. The report shows Plecas presented the lurid tale of overspending to Premier John Horgan’s chief of staff, Geoff Meggs, four months before it became public, in November, 2018.

Meggs told them to take it to the police, then shredded a copy of the document. It didn’t change how the story unfolded, but it’s still a bad move.

It’s matched on the B.C. Liberal side by former speaker Linda Reid, who declined through a lawyer to be interviewed by Lepard, and refused to answer some emailed questions.

Plecas got a dubious reception when he erupted with all the bizarre allegations in January. But both his targets are now gone and the police investigation into their conduct is still grinding away.

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