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The Globe and Mail

Huge planning went into theft of $2-million in Salvation Army toys

Major John Murray of the Salvation Army attends a news conference at their Railside Road food and toy distribution centre in Toronto on Wednesday, November 21, 2012, after discussing the alleged theft of several million dollars worth of items.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

It was the saddest of toy stories: An estimated 100,000 items destined for the neediest, steadily siphoned off over two years from the sprawling north Toronto warehouse that serves as a distribution hub for the other 133 Salvation Army outlets in Ontario.

And what was truly dispiriting, Major John Murray told a media throng who gathered there Wednesday afternoon, amid mountains of toys and packaged food, was the planning that apparently went into the massive theft.

"I think you'd have to be very strategic and intentional," he said.

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"If an individual wants to defraud an organization there are ways and means to do that. I think what this speaks to is someone who really wanted to work around the system and the security systems that were in place."

The loss came to light in August through a Salvation Army whistleblower, and it totalled more than $2-million, mostly in toys valued at $20 apiece, but also in food and other donated goods. The police opened a file in September and are still investigating.

No charges have been laid, in what a police source described as an unusually complex investigation, but at around the same time detectives were called in, the executive director of the warehouse on Railside Road was suspended.

And on Monday he was fired, Major Murray said, adding that no other employees have been implicated in what he termed "an isolated situation."

He did not name the former executive director, but he is known to be David Rennie, who had been with the organization for close to three years, and who, like most Salvation Army staffers in positions of responsibility was screened before he was hired. Mr. Rennie could not immediately be reached for comment.

Major Murray did not explain how so many toys steadily went missing without apparently being noticed. Inside and out, the building has good security, including video cameras and an alarm system, he said.

A source familiar with the investigation, however, said there was no reason to be suspicious of anything because employees at the warehouse were repeatedly told the toys were being moved to another distribution centre.

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As to where they might be now, that too is unclear for now.

The Salvation Army has retained the consulting firm KPMG to conduct a full audit of the facility, which distributes roughly 140,000 toys each year.

Since the story broke, there has been an outpouring of public support for the organization, a Canadian fixture for more than 125 years, Major Murray said.

But the experience has been "disheartening," he conceded.

"When you are stealing from an organization like Salvation Army you are not stealing from the Salvation Army itself," he said.

"You are stealing from the people Salvation Army helps every day and in Canada that's 1.8 million people in 400 different communities."

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