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Allegations of financial impropriety and malfeasance
September 29, 2007 12:58 PM   Subscribe

The ugly side of student politics More than three-quarters of a million dollars in student funds was misspent, a forensic audit of Vancouver's Kwantlen University College student association finances has found. "It's been a pretty long process because the financial records from 2006 were 'lost.' " The audit also revealed that $140,000 was paid to former executive members, including former student association chair Aaron Takhar.

Takhar made headlines last May when he was arrested on drug charges after RCMP found 170 marijuana plants in a car that he had rented. His friend, 18-year-old Daljit Sandhu of Richmond, was discovered dead in the Nechako River near Vanderhoof after he drove the rented Ford Escape off a side-road and into the water.
posted by KokuRyu (34 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
There's a pretty side to student politics? I thought they were all resume stuffers and petty tyrants
posted by the christopher hundreds at 1:15 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Corruption is so endemic to college and university student associations that I'm surprised that we don't read about more of it.

When I was a member of my school's student society board, the board voted to "loan" $8,000 to a friend of one of the executive, ostensibly so that she could fly to a foreign country to report on women's educational issues. I voted "nay" and quit the board shortly thereafter (this was just one of many examples, none of which were never reported in the student newspaper due to judicious use of in camera meetings). It is almost needless to say that no research was done, no report was written, no money was repaid and the executive are all working in the legal or political realm, some 20 years later.

All told, thanks to a simple majority on the board, they stole tens of thousands of dollars, were able to silence their critics or get petty vindication upon them (every club or organization of which I was a member had their budgets screwed with) and got away clean.

They were replaced the following year by an ideologically-opposed slate which was able to reconstruct some of the books. Some.

Anyhow. $750K for a comparatively tiny little college student association is a lot, but in the final analysis, I suspect that just as many people will be punished.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 1:19 PM on September 29, 2007


Brings to mind the two Harvard seniors who embezzled about $100,000 from the Hasty Pudding Theatricals in 2002.
posted by ericb at 1:22 PM on September 29, 2007


I've never really understood what student councils ever had to offer students, besides more debt in the form of mandatory fees added to tuition. This from having spent 5 years in undergrad and 3 in graduate school. Besides hosting pub nights, what else do these guys do? I'm asking seriously here.
posted by reformedjerk at 1:30 PM on September 29, 2007


I remember hearing about how the president of my undergraduate university bought herself a car on the student council expense account. Her punishment? She was impeached one month before she graduated. I believe she is now working in Ottawa.
posted by dobie at 1:31 PM on September 29, 2007


And that is why she fought in court for two years to get her job on student council reinstated and is now planning to sue over the forensic audit she and her fellow council members ordered when finally back in office.

Anderson alleges that he hired a private investigator to spy on rivals, and meddled with ballot boxes during elections.

My college had it's student senate elections recently. Though only 352 students (that's about 3% of the total undergraduate population) showed up to vote, one member of the election committee remarked that the turnout was "good for the fall."

Of those 352 votes, I saw that Mickey Mouse, Santa Claus, Rudolph, Pigasus, Car Ramrod, Rhody the Ram (the school mascot), Big Bobby C, JWL, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Max the Senate Fish, Buddy Cianci, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Darth Vader, Al Capone, Colonel Sanders, Charlie the Unicorn, Ted Nugent, Bill Clinton, Chuck Norris, The Govenator [sic], Jesus, and Jebus all got one vote a piece (22 votes total).

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that I'm having a hard time comprehending anyone taking student council positions so seriously as to go to court (for two years!) to get a position back, or hiring a private investigator to spy on potential opponents.

In any case, I think that both cases--the situation at Kwantlen University and my college's recent elections--serve as exemplary models of Democracy In Action.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 1:35 PM on September 29, 2007


In my junior year, the Student Union president at my university was elected primarily because everyone bought their drugs from him.
posted by Reggie Digest at 1:39 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Ah, Buddy Cianci and Operation Plunder Dome! A good role model for Aaron Takhar and his cohorts in Canada.
posted by ericb at 1:42 PM on September 29, 2007


Besides hosting pub nights, what else do these guys do?

That's about it. As I recall it, student government was for people who weren't quite ambitious enough to venture out into the real world and do some volunteer work, but wanted something to stick on their resume that smacked vaguely of politics and/or leadership.
posted by psmealey at 1:46 PM on September 29, 2007


...hiring a private investigator to spy on potential opponents.

So as to 'stay-in-power' and keep the scam of skimming money out of the student coffers.

Interesting that they were targetting other campuses. Kwantlen was just the first "in their sights."
“Other recovered e-mails show that the RAF group was also interested in gaining influence in the student societies at Langara College, Douglas College and Simon Fraser University.

An e-mail in July 2006 from Takhar to KSA president Butt said: ‘Danish, aren't you going to register us at langara SOON? we need to find out their structure and then register people accordingly. ...

‘And don't tell anyone our plans yet!! just ask around and act like you may be going there.’

In a March 2006 e-mail, Takhar told Butt, ‘Let's crush all this other bullshit and move quickly! douglas and langara await, not to mention perhaps SFU.’

Takhar, now 22, is a political science student at Simon Fraser University. Despite the controversy that surrounds his term at the KSA, he appears to remain interested in student politics -- and the role of slates.

Takhar wrote a letter to The Peak, the SFU student newspaper, in March of this year attacking a decision by the SFU student council to ban slates in elections.

‘What a blow to democracy and everything our political systems stand for!’ the letter said.”*
Slimy little bastards.
posted by ericb at 1:47 PM on September 29, 2007


Student Fees + Low Voter Turnout + General Apathy Toward Student Councils + Little-to-no Oversight = Gravy Train for Skimming Funds for Personal Use.
posted by ericb at 1:50 PM on September 29, 2007


Ahh, and I thought the Student Union at my alma mater was corrupt. These guys completely blow them out of the water.
posted by limeonaire at 1:51 PM on September 29, 2007


Yeah, I remember the student union at my uni being less than useless. Hosting pub nights and outrage - they were good at being outraged. Most of the students have the good sense to avoid anything to do with the student union, but it would be nice to see proper administration of funds become the norm. I don't know why universities can't force regular audits on them.
posted by Salmonberry at 1:53 PM on September 29, 2007


Although perhaps the conspiracy hasn't yet been uncovered. I always hoped it would be, but while the student newspaper I worked on uncovered a few minor irregularities, we never found evidence of big improprieties.

Then again, given the earlier MBTI thread...recall that I am on the borderline of INFJ.
posted by limeonaire at 1:53 PM on September 29, 2007


You know what's awesome about this generation? They leave behind an incriminating trail of text, email and youtube videos in practically everything they do. I believe this will reap a windfall for society in terms of reducing the overall cost of law enforcement.
posted by psmealey at 1:55 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


You know what's awesome about this generation? They leave behind an incriminating trail of text, email and youtube videos...

Yeah -- short of legally changing his name, good luck to Aaron Takhar of being legitimately employed in the future. With alleged drug trafficking and embezzlement charges, I'd say he likely never considered "employment" a high priority.
posted by ericb at 2:05 PM on September 29, 2007


These are exactly the kind of life skills colleges should be teaching, because they can be used again and again. Eventually, I hope they'll start introducing corruption in the high schools, because t's never too early to learn how to embezzle.
posted by tommasz at 2:15 PM on September 29, 2007


Yeah -- short of legally changing his name, good luck to Aaron Takhar of being legitimately employed in the future.

It is pretty easy to apply for work using a perfectly valid name that won't show up in a Google search. My resume uses my full first name, middle name and last name, for example, which never shows up in a Google search for me. And I have a net.history that goes back to the pre-web era. So there's a lot for an HR department to find. I always wait three months before I tell them "actually, I prefer to be called such-and-such."

If he were to use "A. Singh Takhar", he might well be able to get through that particular sieve. Or would have, before I posted this message.

All that said, I think there is a market for corrupt politicians who know how to divert funds to friends and get off criminal charges (which he might). His real name might serve him well with the right (or wrong) potential employer. Lots of organizations need the "dirty tricks" guy who's as greasy as a pig at the Scottish Games and has all the ethics of a tobacco lobbyist at a playground.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 2:21 PM on September 29, 2007


Yeah not shocking really, my student gov't had 7 million in its coffers and I'd say at least 10 percent was wasted each year, with particularly egregious administrations blowing through up to a quarter of their budget.
posted by SassHat at 2:22 PM on September 29, 2007


guys, guys, guys

how the hell else are they going to learn to be the next generation of politicians?

look how well they're learning their profession here - you don't want a bunch of amateurs cutting up the pork in washington (and ottawa) 20 years from now, do you?

hell, if you think that's something, you should see how they behave in the dorm bathrooms ...
posted by pyramid termite at 2:28 PM on September 29, 2007


I read an interesting article somewhere that there are state schools now where you pay more in fees than in tuition, because there are limits on tuition increases but not on fees. Maybe UMass Amherst?

Ah, yes: $857 for in-state tutition plus $4150 in fees, including a bullshit $3063 "curriculum fee".
posted by smackfu at 2:47 PM on September 29, 2007


Brings to mind the two Harvard seniors who embezzled about $100,000 from the Hasty Pudding Theatricals in 2002.

Mr. Gomes's lawyer, Henry A. Cashman, said Mr. Gomes 'hopes to get this behind him as soon as possible and try to graduate from Harvard University.'

God bless USians, who so readily give meth-riddled Ivy leaguers second chances.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:50 PM on September 29, 2007


You know what's awesome about this generation? They leave behind an incriminating trail of text, email and youtube videos in practically everything they do.

Yeah, one of the best things about those emails are the TOP SECRET DELETE THIS EMAIL warnings in each one. Because, you know, once you trash an email, it disappears forever. It's not like a copy is stored on a server, or anything.
posted by jokeefe at 3:50 PM on September 29, 2007


This guy was an elected official on my Student Union.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:04 PM on September 29, 2007


To speak out in defense of student unions and student politicians, they do have their purpose in advocating for student issues (e.g., lower tuitions, better curriculum), as well as providing useful services (e.g., cheap quality daycare, student comprehensive health plans). University administrations typically have no interest in proactively serving this role.

True, there are a lot of frightful creatures active in student politics, but there a lot of earnest, albeit idealistic folks as well.

Note: I am a former student politician. I received the most number of votes - my election campaign consisted of a baby picture entitled with the caption "Vote for me: I have a large head." Politics at its finest.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:40 PM on September 29, 2007


My cégep's student gov't could've used some of these mythical idealistic folks.

During my last year, I was a co-VP of the charity club. We organized at least half a dozen events/sales every year, with all the profits going to various local and international charities. We even had a sponsored kid. In order to have these multi-day sales, we had our own cashbox so we could go for a posterboard run whenever we needed to or dash off to Costco to replenish our stocks of candy during the wildly successful Halloween sale. The student gov't knew about it and didn't particularly care.

Then we had our 40 Hour Famine. We'd gotten permission from the school to use the lounges and gyms over the weekend, with that use being restricted to only pledged participants. Some non-participating student gov't guys stuck around and made use of the stuff we had set up... They wouldn't leave when asked politely, so we ended up having them kicked out by one of the school admins. Shortly after that, the same student gov't guys decided that we weren't allowed to have our own cashbox and that we'd have to apply for funds 2-3 weeks in advance. Goodbye multi-day candy sales. As far as I know, the club didn't continue on the year after.

A year or two ago that same school's student gov't was in the news for some sort of financial scandal. And for having unilaterally shut down the student newspaper, which had been running a lot of editorials and articles about the school's student gov't corruption. Slapped a big ol' padlock on the newspaper's office door. Great guys, really.
posted by CKmtl at 5:38 PM on September 29, 2007


Melbourne University Student Union went into liquidation in 2004, complete with multiple million dollar lawsuits against the immediate former presidents, after they entered into a $46million dollar property deal that they couldn't afford and other claims of theft and mismanagement surfaced under the publicity. I tried looking up the details just now, but the first several pages of results on google seem to be personal blogs by people way too involved.
posted by jacalata at 8:21 PM on September 29, 2007


This is hilarious. Why do these organizations have access to this sort of cash? There is not a conceivable need for a student government to have more than $2500 in its coffers at any one time. Really.
posted by maxwelton at 8:56 PM on September 29, 2007


For fuck's sake. Three quarters of a million dollars in a student government?! Billions in cash vanish down the rabbit hole in Iraq? Why the hell am I never in the right place at the right time?
posted by nanojath at 10:47 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


[Future] politicians swiping funds? They start younger and younger now, don't they.
posted by Xere at 12:08 AM on September 30, 2007



"God bless USians, who so readily give meth-riddled Ivy leaguers second chances."
posted by Blazecock Pileon

BP, I recently heard Suzanne Pomney (the other Harvard senior convicted in the Hasty Pudding case, along with Gomes) has since graduated Wake Forest law school with honors (a google search seems to confirm this), so you're not far from the truth.
posted by sock it to me monkey at 12:52 AM on September 30, 2007


jokeefe writes "Yeah, one of the best things about those emails are the TOP SECRET DELETE THIS EMAIL warnings in each one. Because, you know, once you trash an email, it disappears forever. It's not like a copy is stored on a server, or anything."

Come on, that straegy worked just fine for Ollie North. Oh, wait.
posted by Mitheral at 10:11 AM on September 30, 2007


I never thought I'd see the town of Vanderhoof on Metafilter, even in passing.

This is a great day for one horse towns everywhere.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:09 PM on September 30, 2007


Unbelievably this is actually the second time Vanderhoof has been a topic of conversation.
posted by Mitheral at 7:32 AM on October 1, 2007


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