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Government & policy

Danderfer pleads guilty in spending scandal

VICTORIA – Ron Danderfer (pictured), a former assistant deputy minister of health with the province of British Columbia, has pleaded guilty to a fraud charge concerning benefits he received from a health technology vendor between 2004 and 2007.

That’s a change of position for Danderfer, who last summer pleaded not guilty to four counts, including fraud and breach of trust. In a Victoria courtroom earlier this month, Danderfer’s lawyer Mayland McKimm re-entered the plea on behalf of his absent client, changing it to guilty on one of the four counts, the Vancouver Sun reported.

The other three counts are expected to be stayed later this month, once Danderfer has been sentenced, McKimm and a Crown spokesman said. Outside the courthouse, McKimm said his client “accepts, for the purposes of the plea, that there were benefits.”

McKimm said Danderfer now admits to accepting the use of a Kelowna condominium, and a job for his wife, from a contractor he was managing in his role with the government.

“The government is very, very rigorous with respect to what kind of benefits any deputy minister can receive,” said McKimm. “Nothing he did would have been outside the realm of private business, but when you’re dealing with government the standards are incredibly strict.”

McKimm said Danderfer has already suffered greatly from the attention the case has received in the media.

“It has been extremely trying for him. He’s lost his job, he’s lost the respect he had in the community, this has taken an amazing toll on him,” he said. “Frankly it needed to come to an end and here we are.”

Danderfer’s guilty plea came the same day lawyers were scheduled to discuss disclosure of a large number of government documents related to the case. The plea likely means many of those documents won’t be disclosed.

The case is significant not only because it involves a former high-ranking health official such as Danderfer, but also because it is directly related to B.C.’s multimillion-dollar push toward electronic health records. “It’s obviously a pretty serious thing,” New Democratic Party leader Adrian Dix said.

He called Danderfer – who oversaw the creation of the province’s $222-million electronic health monitoring system – “one of the most important public servants in the government directing one of the most important initiatives that the Liberals put forward on healthcare in the last 10 years.”

Also charged in the case was Dr. Jonathan Burns, a health contractor and doctor who billed substantial amounts in relation to the electronic health program. Earlier this year, Burns pleaded guilty to two counts of influence-peddling with government officials.

Burns was sentenced to three years’ probation and was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. Six other charges against Burns, including fraud and breach of trust, were stayed.

Posted July 14, 2011