Conclusion in OneCard case
Former manager of Wilfrid Laurier University’s OneCard office Nick Tomljenovic, 43, pleaded guilty Feb. 17 in Kitchener Superior Court to charges of defrauding over $30,000 from the university through illicit OneCard use.
Currently employed in the United States, possibly California, Tomljenovic will return to Kitchener June 17 for conviction and sentencing.
An employee since 1999, Tomljenovic’s thefts took place between April 2001 and November 2007, when he was suspended with pay by the university during an audit prompted by suspicious accounts and other activities in the office. After he became unco-operative with the university, his pay was cut and he was eventually fired in February 2008.
Initially, Tomljenovic charged food and services including tanning and regular trips to the Rude Native Bistro to his own OneCard. He would never pay the accrued bills and erase them from his account, according to assistant Crown attorney David Russell.
While current Laurier students are familiar with the OneCard for purchasing food on campus and off, in the past the program extended to Beach Bunnies tanning studio, Rude Native Bistro and other merchants. Employees of the university regularly use OneCards by loading money into their personal accounts.
“He was obviously using his own OneCard, yet there were never any payments on it,” Russell explained. “He’d go to Beach Bunnies or the Rude Native, present his card and the bill would be paid for. The university pays the vendor, that’s why the theft is really from the university because the vendors always had to be paid.”
OneCard office employee Tanya Diriye discovered irregularities while examining OneCard accounts with outstanding balances in spring 2005. She found a suspicious identification number that didn’t seem to match up with anything and was not found in the university’s computer records.
Tomljenovic had created multiple OneCards tied to accounts with fictitious names, usually the alter egos of comic book characters.
“Jason Garrick was [the name on] one of the accounts,” Russell explained.
“There is no Jason Garrick at the university, but that is the alter ego of the DC Comics character the Flash.
“There was another one in the name of Thomas Wayne, who as it turns out is the father of Batman.”
There were also accounts named for Richard Grayson, alter ego of Batman’s sidekick Robin, and Remo Williams, the name of a rogue police officer in “The Destroyer” novels and comics.
There was no one to complain or notice the charges on these accounts, Russell said, because the university was invoiced by the OneCard office and paid retailers.
“Because there was no student to complain and no customer to complain and everybody got paid, the only people who weren’t getting paid was Laurier who wasn’t being reimbursed by anyone.”
Tomljenovic, well known to the off-campus retailers involved in the OneCard program as the manager of the office, had OneCards with his name and a stick figure in lieu of an actual photo.
“He would go to Beach Bunnies [tanning], present his card with the stick figure on it, which everybody thought was funny,” Russell said. “The number on it would be in the name of Remo WIlliams.”
“They knew who he was, he was the manager of the office so he was never questioned.”
After Diriye discovered suspicious accounts, she examined the account registered to Tomljenovic himself and found that he had gone for long periods without using his card at all, unusual for the manager of the operation.
She was even more suspicious because she had seen him pay for drinks at Wilf’s for the staff of the office using a OneCard.
A substantial charge was also found to coincide with Tomljenovic’s birthday, an event held at the Rude Native. “It looked like he paid the tab for his birthday celebration,” Russell said.
Laurier assistant VP of human resources Allison Rawn said that Tomljenovic denied every charge against him since the suspicions were reported and the university began to examine the matter. “He was taking the position that there was absolutely no foundation to what we were investigating,” she said, “That it was offensive and upsetting and unbelievable. He held to that right until last week.”
The university brought in the accounting firm KPMG to conduct an audit at a cost of over $149,000 in the wake of Diriye’s findings. “They paid a lot of money to discover a $30,000 theft,” Russell commented, noting however that, “If they hadn’t done that, there would not have been enough to go ahead [with the criminal investigation].”
“It probably would have gone on for a lot longer and been a lot more money. She gets a lot of credit for that,” Russell explained.
VP of student affairs David McMurray said that the cost was justified. “In hindsight we’re very thankful that we did this because it was based on our judgment at the time and the information that we had and we weren’t going to walk away from it.”
“These kinds of things are expensive, there’s no question about it,” he added.
Asked what allowed the fraud to go on for as long as it did, Rawn speculated that because Tomljenovic had designed Laurier’s OneCard system, oversaw it and few others had knowledge of its details, he did not face much scrutiny.
“He had some unique knowledge of the system and I don’t know that there was enough expertise in house for the appropriate checks and balances as he built it, which allowed for vulnerabilities,” she said. Tomljenovic had designed and overseen a similar system at the University of Guelph until 1999 when he was hired at Laurier.
She noted that the KPMG audit led to changes to the operational structure of the office and how employees access accounts.
Justice Robert Reilly noted the “egregious breach of trust” Tomljenovic had committed and explained that further information, including testimony from the senior vice president of KPMG would be entered on June 17 when the trial resumes for sentencing. Tomljenovic will likely be required to provide restitution for the missing $30,130.74, the audit cost and associated legal costs as well as a fine.
Due to the nature of the crime and breach of trust, Tomljenovic could well have faced jail time. Russell said however that the Crown would likely press for some form of restitution – noting that the proceedings have been conducted in a fashion to allow Laurier to pursue a civil suit against Tomljenovic to recoup its expenses along with the money stolen.