Trial begins for final politician charged in Nova Scotia spending scandal

HALIFAX – A member of the Nova Scotia legislature confirmed in court Monday he was given more than $10,000 from the Speaker’s Office to cover constituency expenses in 2008 and 2009 even though he didn’t pay those whom he claimed were owed money.

Trevor Zinck, an Independent member of the legislature, is charged with theft over $5,000, fraud over $5,000 and breach of trust.

His lawyer, Lyle Howe, told the court the internal rules governing expense claims were confusing and open to wide interpretation, particularly when it came to paying bills. But Howe has yet to spell out why his client should be cleared of the charges.

Zinck was one of four politicians charged in February 2011 after an investigation by the province’s auditor general led to an RCMP investigation. The former NDP caucus member is the only one of the four who still sits in the legislature. The others have already been sentenced after pleading guilty to a variety of charges.

On Monday, the first day of Zinck’s trial in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax, Crown lawyer Mark Heerema read an agreed statement of facts that cited 10 duplicate cheques worth just over $10,000 that Zinck had submitted to the Speaker’s Office for reimbursement.

Heerema said Zinck is not contesting the assertion that he was reimbursed by the Speaker’s Office, even though he did not pay all of the recipients listed on the duplicate cheques either before or after he was reimbursed.

More than half of the money was supposed to go to the Boys and Girls Club of Dartmouth, Heerema said. Other cheques were made out to Lake City Woodworkers of Dartmouth, the Dartmouth District 9 Citizens Association and an individual who represented something called the Atlantic Spring League Hockey.

Most of the expense claims were to cover the cost of buying sponsorships from each group, which included having Zinck’s name displayed on newsletters, banners and, in one case, the back of hockey jerseys.

Howe said his client had made a partial payment to Lake City Woodworkers, though he did not offer details.

Before the trial began, the member for Dartmouth North said he was looking forward to having his say in court.

“I’m relieved, to be honest with you,” he said outside court. “I know a lot of my constituents as well have wanted to see me get past this . . . after 2 1/2 years, I’ll have my time, I’ll have my say and then it will be up to the judge to decide.”

Ten days have been scheduled for the judge-only trial.

After the statement of facts was read, a former director of administration for the Office of the Speaker, Jocelyn Scallion, offered the court a detailed description of the Internal Economy Board regulations once used by members of the legislature to claim for expenses.

Under the rules, which changed over time, members were allowed to claim between $4,000 and $5,000 every month for constituency expenses, provided they had receipts or invoices. As well, they could claim about $1,000 monthly for expenses without receipts.

At one point, Scallion confirmed when expenses were submitted with duplicate cheques as receipts, there was no way for her to confirm whether the member had actually paid for something.

Still, she said Zinck’s claims were always submitted on time and included all of the necessary documentation.

“He was spot on,” Scallion told the court. “He was one of the better members.”

The trial continues Tuesday.

The three other politicians involved in the spending scandal have already been sentenced.

In March, former Cape Breton cabinet minister Russell MacKinnon was sentenced to four months of house arrest after he pleaded guilty to breach of trust by a public officer. The former Liberal politician admitted that he had submitting nearly $11,000 in false expense claims for two constituency employees.

Former Liberal Dave Wilson served four months of a nine-month sentence last year after admitting in April 2012 to defrauding the public purse of nearly $61,000 to feed a gambling addiction. Like MacKinnon, Wilson obtained the money by falsely claiming he had paid people for constituency work.

Richard Hurlburt, a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, was sentenced to a year of house arrest in July 2012 after pleading guilty to charges of fraud and breach of trust. He admitted to defrauding the province of more than $25,000 between December 2006 and December 2008.