Lawsuit alleges doctors and former director of downtown Brampton medical clinic misused more than $2M
Things began to unravel for Brampton’s Wise Elephant Family Health Team, a downtown medical clinic, early in 2019.
Opening a letter from the Government of Ontario (which funds the medical group), the board of directors was given a shock. The organization owed the province approximately $360,000 in funds that went unspent over the last two years.
For a group appointed recently to their new roles, to bring better governance to the provincially regulated company, following the mass departure of the previous board, the news hit like a lightning bolt.
In a city desperate for medical care, where healthcare dollars are like gold, and providers are facing increasing pressures to help deliver efficient patient care because of the ongoing hallway healthcare crisis, the letter didn’t make any sense.
How could this have happened?
Now, a lawsuit filed against the founders and former directors of the Wise Elephant Family Health Team (WEFHT) Dr. Sanjeev Goel and Dr. Lopita Banerjee (a married couple), along with 14 of the Family Health Team’s (FHT) affiliated doctors and previous executive director, Jaipaul Massey-Singh, lays bare allegations of a scandal involving these parties and a conspiracy that led to the misappropriation of approximately $2.2 million in taxpayers’ money meant for patient care.
The bulk of the accusations are levelled at Goel, Banerjee and Massey-Singh who the lawsuit alleges worked together to push money through the FHT into one of many subsidiary companies the married physicians owned or directed. The lawsuit names 12 such companies that are either owned or directed by Goel or Banerjee.
The statement of claim was filed to the Ontario Superior Court October 23. The lawsuit’s allegations have not been proven in court.
Previously, The Pointer reported on a separate and ongoing lawsuit from one of the WEFHT’s doctors, Andrew Johnson, which alleges similar wrongdoing, including that money was taken out of the organization’s accounts just ahead of vacations Goel and Banerjee took to India in 2010 and then to Peru in 2017. The pair denied all the allegations in Johnson’s lawsuit.
In total, a forensic audit of the WEFHT’s finances, initiated by the health team’s new board of directors, the group that launched the latest lawsuit, has found $2,255,125 that was transferred from the WEFHT to one of the companies owned or directed by Goel or Banerjee. Such transactions, according to the lawsuit, are prohibited under the funding agreement between the health team and the Ontario Ministry of Health.
The alleged financial mismanagement at the hands of Goel, Banerjee and Massey-Singh left the health team on the brink of bankruptcy. The province informed the new board that it would be cutting its funding to the organization in order to make up the outstanding debts owed.
The new directors are now seeking $3 million in damages from Goel and Banerjee and others named in the suit, for breach of contract, and $3 million in restitution for unjust enrichment in order to keep the doors of the Wise Elephant clinic open, so badly needed care can be delivered to Brampton residents.
The lawsuit states Goel and Banerjee, along with their subsidiary companies and physicians, “agreed or intended to act together or in concert in a plan or scheme such that the funds of the WEFHT were used or appropriated for the benefit, directly or indirectly, of Defendant Goel, Defendant Banerjee, the Goel Related Parties and the Defendant Goel Physicians with the purpose of harming the WEFHT or to damage the WEFHT.”
The Pointer has reviewed the documents in the case. Messages were left with Goel, Banerjee and Massey-Singh. They did not respond as of publication.
Massey-Singh currently serves as chair of the Brampton Library Board.
The family health team concept is not a new one. Since 2005, the province of Ontario has been funding these groups of healthcare providers and currently there are 184 of them operating across the province. They are made up of family physicians, nurses, social workers, dieticians and a variety of other healthcare professionals that provide care to a roster of patients. These groups sign an agreement with the province to form a FHT and receive funding on a per patient basis to assist with administration and salary costs. The idea is that the partnership between these providers will make it easier on patients with complex healthcare needs to receive the treatment they need in an efficient and cost-effective setting.
To use a Brampton example, a patient with diabetes, a condition quite common among the city’s large South Asian-Canadian population, can attend one of these family health teams and get assistance from a nurse for their health needs and a dietician to assist with their eating habits, while also having a doctor monitor the condition and oversee treatment, all in one place.
In order for a doctor to belong to a family health team, they must first belong to a family health organization (FHO) or family health network, but a doctor can belong to a FHO without becoming part of an FHT. Both FHOs and FHTs receive funding from the province.
“Ideally, when affiliated, a FHT and a FHO exist in a mutually beneficial relationship, including facilitating their members to share costs and expenses of their respective medical and healthcare practices through an arrangement that is approved by the Ministry of Health,” the statement of claim reads.
In the case of Wise Elephant, Goel and Banerjee had their hands in both the Wise Elephant Family Health Organization (WEFHO) and the Wise Elephant Family Health Team (WEFHT), where they were both on the board of directors since the FHTs inception in 2010, until their resignations in Feb. 2019.
Through their roles on the board and as physician members, the statement of claim alleges, they used their positions to control and direct funds to companies they were affiliated with, all with the assistance of the WEFHT executive director Massey-Singh.
The recent detailed allegations are a result of a forensic audit completed by the new board of directors who took over in January of this year. The board is now made up of local community members and executive director Ernesto Gaskin.
Overall, the forensic audit discovered $261,000 in Paypal transactions, over $1 million in related-party payments which were in breach of the FHTs funding agreement, and $750,000 in unspecified salary payments.
Similar to the province’s web of healthcare providers in the FHT and FHO network, Goel and Banerjee also own or direct a complicated web of subsidiary businesses and companies, all of which are named in the statement of claim, many of which allegedly received payments from the FHT for different reasons.
Such businesses include:
- Banerjee Goel Medicine Professional Corporation
- Clever Monkey Holding Corp.
- Dancing Tiger Health Group Inc.
- Health Quality Innovation Collaborative
- I6 Building Corp
- I6 Technologies Corp.
- 2 Kennedy Doctors
- Peak Human Corp
- Phoenix Medical Spa
- Spark Medical Cannabis
- Spark Rehab
- SPRQ Health Group Corp.
According to documentation obtained by The Pointer, all of these companies are either owned or directed by Goel and Banerjee, and many of them allegedly received payments for various services from the WEFHT while it was controlled by Goel, Banerjee and Massey-Singh.
For example, on March 31, 2012, $77,275 was sent to Banerjee Goel Medicine in six separate invoices for different consulting and recruitment purposes. Few other details are provided.
In April 2012, $9,040 was paid to Clever Monkey for rent.
In August 2012, $100,000 was loaned from the WEFHT to Banerjee Goel Medicine. The forensic audit discovered several other related-party loans as well.
All cheques were signed off by Wise Elephant's executive director, Massey-Singh, the lawsuit alleges, with copies of cheques showing his signature.
The transactions continued between 2013 and 2017 with varying values and reasons, all of them in violation of the funding agreement, the forensic audit found, according to allegations in the lawsuit.
Between March 29 and April 3, 2013, $174,576 was paid in 24 separate transactions to Banerjee Goel Medicine from the WEFHT for a variety of consulting and rental payments, including a total of $114,119 for “specialist consulting.”
The list goes on: $5,000 was sent to a Neeraj Goel, an “accredited family mediator”. It’s unclear if the individual is related to Dr. Sanjeev Goel. Massey-Singh signed off on the cheque despite no description of what the payment was for.
On April 7, 2014, $25,000 was paid to Clever Monkey for unspecified reasons, according to documents. The memo line of the cheque simply reads “repayment”.
It also appears, according to the documents, that the WEFHT account was being used as a type of investment piggybank. On Dec. 2, 2016, $6,500 was debited from the WEFHT account to Mackenzie Financial Group, with $25,000 returned to the account on March 7, 2017. On June 2, 2017, $11,000 is again debited from the WEFHT in two separate transactions to the financial firm. The same day, $6,500 was returned into the account.
Additionally, the WEFHT was paying $8,750 a month to I6 Building Corp for 3,000 square feet of space at 2 Kennedy Road in Brampton. The landlord is listed as Massey-Singh, the tenant, Sanjeev Goel, according to the documents for the case.
Finally, the WEFHT was allegedly used as an intermediary account for other Banerjee/Goel businesses for unknown reasons. For example, between June 8, 2012, $10,000 was received in the WEFHT account from an anonymous Paypal transaction. On June 13, 2012, $10,000 was sent to Dancing Tiger, the cheque authorized by Massey-Singh. It’s currently not known why these transactions occurred, according to the statement of claim.
“The Defendant Goel Physicians either together or in concert entered into or conspired to commit these improper and improvident transactions and permitted the occurrence of these financial irregularities with respect to the WEFHT, including a series of related party transactions to substantial detriment of the WEFHT and causing the WEFHT to suffer damages,” the statement of claim reads.
The preliminary findings of the board’s audit have been sent off to various ministries at the province and Premier Doug Ford. The Pointer has also learned that Peel Regional Police have been notified of the alleged fraud. The PRP would not comment when asked by The Pointer if they were investigating, instead directing questions to the health fraud unit of the Ontario Provincial Police. A response to a request for comment was not returned ahead of publication.
“Once we saw the allegations, the severity and gravity of the allegations, the quantity of money involved, the pervasiveness of the various schemes alleged in the report, the history of time, we thought it was our fiduciary responsibility to report it to the appropriate authorities,” current executive director Ernesto Gaskin told The Pointer.
This is not the first time questions have been raised about the management of the Wise Elephant team.
In June of 2017, Dr. Johnson, one of the members of the team, contacted the Ministry of Health raising a number of concerns about financial discrepancies he’d noticed within the WEFHT, including the previous month when the FHT was unable to make its payroll contributions, allegedly forcing Massey-Singh to take out a loan from one of the pharmacists in the FHT. A similar shortfall occurred the month after, Johnson says, and the FHT attempted to take out a loan from CIBC to pay its members, but was turned down when the bank realized the FHTs bylaws stated they are not authorized to take out loans.
The inability to pay staff was allegedly occuring while Goel and Banerjee, with Massey-Singh’s authorization, were re-directing funds to their affiliated companies, in violation of funding rules.
The complaints from Johnson led to an Ontario Treasury Board audit, the results of which were released in February of last year, detailing an FHT that was severely mismanaged.
“It is evident that management and governance issues in the organization are impacting its ability to discharge its accountability obligations as per the funding agreement,” the province’s audit reads.
The door of the Wise Elephant clinic inside a downtown-area plaza
The audit, which focused mainly on governance and management issues, as opposed to auditing any detailed financial records, found that despite the fact the board is meant to meet regularly, for 10 bi-monthly meetings, the previous WEFHT board, including Massey-Singh, the executive director, and Goel and Banerjee, was only able to provide two sets of minutes, and these did not document any resolutions or conflict of interest declarations. The WEFHT did not make annual declarations to the province for code of conduct issues or conflicts and despite being required to create an internal finance committee to review the executive director’s draft budget for the FHT, no such committee was ever formed.
The audit also found the board disregarded its own bylaws, appointing members for longer terms than allowed, and was generally late submitting the required quarterly and annual financial reports, often 60-100 days after the provincial deadlines. Of the financial records that were reviewed during the audit, none had any evidence of being reviewed by management and many did not have proper supporting documents to justify the spending. Finally, the provincial audit found that bank reconciliation documents, an accountability measure, meant to be reviewed monthly to ensure the bottom line at the bank matches that of the WEFHT’s ledger, were not being created properly. Financial documents reviewed by the audit showed the end balance per the bank reconciliation did not agree with the general ledger balance for the organization’s funds.
The audit also discovered that the WEFHT had related-party loans in the amount of $82,120 as of the end of 2016 and four related-parties were owed approximately $30,000, though it doesn’t say which parties. Such loans are grounds for terminating the provincial funding agreement.
The end result of the audit was a series of recommendations to improve management of the WEFHT. It’s not clear why the province remained in the funding agreement despite the obvious breaches.
Massey-Singh resigned soon after the audit was made public.
Repeated requests for comment sent to Massey-Singh, Goel and Banerjee, including emails and phone messages were unsuccessful as of publication. A lawyer for Dr. Banerjee said he was unable to reach her.
Following the province’s letter earlier this year, the new board of directors of the WEFHT has been working to keep the doors open, convincing the province to hold off on cutting its funding while the forensic audit is underway of the previous financial mismanagement.
“As a result of Defendant Goel and Banerjee’s use of WEFHT funds for their benefit, either directly or indirectly, through the Goel Related Parties, the WEFHT was, on numerous occasions, unable to meet its financial obligations,” the statement of claim states. “The full extent of the improper use of WEFHT funds by Defendant [Goel and Banerjee] is unknown to the WEFHT and the current WEFHT Board.”
Their behaviour and management amounted to “wanton and reckless negligence” the statement of claim alleges; “(they) exhibited a cavalier and foolhardy disregard for these monies, funds and property as well as the WEFHT’s interest.”
“The actions of the Defendant Goel Physicians and the Goel Related Parties, as set out herein, were malicious, oppressive, high-handed, outrageous, reckless, wanton, entirely without care, deliberate, callous, willful and motivated by financial gain,” the claim alleges.
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