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Devastated by housing scandal

“This isn’t the result I expected. This is devastating.” Tammy Whitebean, who is one of at least 20 victims of the 2018 housing scandal that has left Kahnawake reeling, has been reacting to last week’s announcement that no criminal charges would be laid in the fraud investigation.

“To hear that there was going to be no charges pressed is ridiculous,” she said.

“What do you mean there’s no evidence there? All the evidence is there. We gave affidavits and everything. A lot of people came forward; to come back with this is a little ridiculous.”

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) announced in a press conference on Thursday, November 3, that nobody would be held criminally responsible for at least $695,000 of unaccounted for funds, which had been syphoned from rent and mortgage payments from community members.

According to victims of the scandal, housing payments had been made in public places such as at a bar, the bank, and a private home, and had also been sent via Interac transfer.

“It’s unbelievable how many families were affected by this,” said Whitebean.
“It breaks my heart to know what other people must be going through with their mortgages and things unsettled.”

Many community members’ mortgages were left unpaid as well as rent that accumulated, though many claimed they paid the social housing administrator.

For Whitebean, this resulted in a loss of $5,000 in rent payment, and receiving the eviction notice that helped expose the fraud to the public in 2018.

“We have children who are going to grow up, and who are going to learn from this,” Whitebean said. “What does it show them? You can get away with it.”
At last Thursday’s press conference, MCK chiefs expressed a desire to “turn the page” on this event.

For Whitebean and others affected, this seems impossible to do without some kind of closure.

“To have community members do this to their own people, and not even get a slap on the wrist, that’s a huge slap in the face,” explained Whitebean.

“There’s no accountability. We know it wasn’t just one person for sure. I’m angry with all who were involved right now. You can’t just turn the page and forget it. You can’t do that.” Faye Norton was also a victim of the scandal.

She said she received a house call with a letter stating she owed the MCK $5,000 in unpaid rent.

Having provided all her own receipts to prove that she didn’t owe money, Norton believed there would be enough evidence to press charges.

“Where the heck did all that money go? Who took it, and how come no one was ever arrested for the crime?” Norton asked.

“Of course they want to close up this scandal. I’m never gonna forget this incident, ever.”

Whitebean attended a community meeting at the Golden Age Club after last week’s announcement to speak with community members about how best to respond to the news.

The meeting, which started at 8 p.m., went on until midnight. “People felt anger.Anger and hurt,” she said of the meeting. “Because now we’re back to where it was in the beginning. Helplessness. What do we do?” MCK Chief Ryan Montour was the only chief invited to the meeting.

“I was adamant that once invited, I would attend this meeting,” said Montour. “The community has a right to be heard and be listened to. There were some tough conversations that happened during that community meeting, for sure.” Montour hoped to provide some further explanations to the community, noting that the MCK was also thoroughly disappointed with the Quebec crown’s decision not to prosecute.

“A lot of it was having more discussions on what the MCK can do for victims,” said Montour.

“There’s pain and anger and frustration that stems from all this. The answers I gave were basically for the resolutions that I want to see for everybody that was affected by this situation.” Montour explained that not all accounts have been settled following the scandal, demonstrating the ongoing effects of the fraud that still impact community members today.

“The administration is taking steps, they have a team set up to deal with that,” he said.

He also noted that he was able to invite chief Peacekeeper Dwayne Zacharie to the chiefs’ kiosk the day after the meeting.

“What community members wanted was some tough legal questions that I didn’t have answers to,” he said.

“I’m happy to report that the chief Peacekeeper did show up, he did a great job, and hopefully he answered some of those tough legal questions that I couldn’t answer.” Montour said that the effects of the scandal continue to impact community members and current MCK staff.

“Right now, the employees in the housing unit, a lot of them weren’t involved with past management,” he explained.

“We met with them, just to hear their worries and their concerns throughout the process.” Now, MCK is looking to rectify the distress caused to victims.

“My focus now is to get the reconciliation of accounts, address the victims of this housing situation, and also to present to the community what we are doing moving forward with housing services,” he said.

“It’s apparent that there’s still a lot of community members with questions, so I’m trying my best to give them a clear direction on how to fix everybody’s accounts.”

Whitebean remains frustrated and angry at the amount that the community has had to spend on the investigation process.

She noted that Peacekeepers had failed to even contact her during the investigation, leaving her confused about the process and wondering why her story wasn’t heard.

“It’s a huge waste of money and time,” she said.

“Just me going to 13 apartments was able to bring all this out. It cost me $0. You’d think if over a million dollars of community funds had been spent, the Peacekeepers would have at least talked to all of the victims.”
Montour urges any community members with unsettled accounts to contact the Client Based Services Unit at 450-638-0500.

“I want to tell community members to call that number. They’re waiting for you, they’re going to set you in the right direction, no matter what category you fall into,” he said.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.