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Breach of trust charge against CAO Manny Baron withdrawn

by Patrick Raftis

MAPLETON - Manny Baron is relieved and township officials are reaffirming their confidence in the municipality’s CAO after a breach of trust charge against Baron was withdrawn on Sept. 6.

“It’s been obviously a very stressful time for my family and I, but ... we hung in together and obviously are very pleased with the outcome,” Baron told the Advertiser in a Sept. 10 telephone interview.

Baron was charged in March with breach of trust by a public officer following what Lambton OPP officials called a “lengthy” police investigation.

The charge relates to Baron’s leasing of property he owned to the Town of Petrolia - and a resulting conflict of interest - while he was CAO of the town.

In a statement noting his client is “relieved and thrilled” the charge was withdrawn, Baron’s lawyer Phillip Millar called the entire case “a witch hunt arising from a few political haters that Mr. Baron ran afoul of” while serving as CAO of Petrolia.

Baron can now “hold his head high knowing his name is cleared,” declared Millar in the Sept. 7 press release from his firm Millars Law.

Assistant Crown Attorney Suzanne Lasha explained the charge was withdrawn in connection with Baron’s participation in restorative justice through  the Direct Accountability Program.

“We often use ... [it]where we have grounds to pursue a charge but we, in our discretion, feel that it is more appropriate to use that program and we felt in this case that adequately addressed the issues involved,” said Lasha.

According to the Millars Law release, Baron made a $1,000 donation to the Petrolia Community Foundation “as a good faith gesture” and to take responsibility “for an administrative error.”

Lasha explained the donation was part of the Direct Accountability Program.

“Implicit in the program is an acknowledgement. But  ... it doesn’t involve any formal pleas of any kind before the court. The matter is absolutely withdrawn,” she said.

Baron was placed on administrative leave by Petrolia in October after a local newspaper, The Independent, reported he was charging the town rent, and utilities in lieu of rent, on facilities he owns through a numbered company.

Baron did not disclose to the town his ownership of the properties.

The town appointed investigator John Fleming to look into the deal for the properties, which were used by the town for a youth/seniors centre and storage area.

Baron resigned on Nov. 14 after Fleming’s report was presented to Petrolia council. The report was not made public and a Freedom of Information request for it by the Independent was denied and is now under appeal.

Baron was hired as CAO of Mapleton Township in January.

In an interview with the Advertiser shortly after he was hired, Baron conceded his ownership of the Petrolia properties constituted a conflict, but he said his intent was to contribute to the community, not profit from the transaction.

In the Sept. 7 Millars Law statement Baron thanked Mayor Neil Driscoll and Mapleton councillors for hiring him despite his controversial exit from Petrolia.

“I will never forget what [they] did by believing in me and trusting that I would clear my name,” stated Baron.

In a statement, Driscoll noted Mapleton officials “knew early on that we were going to reap the benefits of Petrolia’s loss.” Driscoll added the township has had “a very productive nine months” with Baron.

In its release Millars Law took aim at media outlets that have covered the case.

“We now live in a Google world, where one news story can stain you for the rest of your life, even if your name is cleared,” stated Millar.

He added “those who cover the news have an obligation to report on the matters accurately when they come to a positive conclusion for an accused.”

Asked in a Sept. 7 interview why Baron resigned in Petrolia following the investigator’s report, Millar said Baron conceded the issue was handled incorrectly.

“I guess what I would say is this happened but, you know, it doesn’t make it criminal,” he said.

Millar called the situation a “witch hunt” because he felt police were pushed to lay unnecessary charges.

“The guy resigned. He acknowledged it. Move on.”

Asked what made the investigation a “witch hunt,” Baron referred the question to his lawyer.

Millar stated, “Somebody was pushing for it,” adding he believes police could be moved to action, “If enough people call.

“When you have adversaries in areas, and some  have influence, they just try to wield power.”

September 14, 2018

 
 

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