Do not play poker with Jason Neubauer.
The Crown prosecutor, tasked with examining personal trainer Mike Croskery in the witness box today, managed to get through it without getting the giggles. That would suggest Neubauer is a master of the stony-faced bluff.
Croskery charged Sen. Mike Duffy somewhere in the region of $40 an hour when he started working him out in Duffy’s Kanata basement in late 2007. But things changed after Duffy became a senator in 2009: Croskery suddenly found himself billing Duffy closer to $500 per session.
It was, Croskery told Neubauer, all Duffy’s idea.
“I believe he said, ‘Let’s do this as consulting,’ Croskery told the court, explaining during testimony that he and Duffy were now working on a project aimed at developing a fitness program for Canada’s aging population—a little venture Duffy called the Age Wave.
“As you meet to do what?” Neubauer asked, just the slightest bit of edge creeping into his voice.
“As we meet for our exercise, I guess,” Croskery replied, explaining later: “It wasn’t like he was really out of breath.”
Court heard that Croskery brought no notes to these sessions, despite his claim that he and Duffy were discussing matters of urgency to Canada’s aging population, and that Duffy, who much of the time was busy riding a stationary bicycle, took no notes either. These proceedings came as part of Duffy’s trial—he faces 31 bribery, breach of trust and fraud charges, and this was the eighth day in Courtroom 33, inside the Ottawa courthouse on Elgin Street.
“You’re citing research to the senator as he’s exercising,” Neubauer asked.
Yes. That was the idea. And it was hard not to look amused as you heard it.
Telling the story caused Croskery to go very red in the face, and his answers to become awfully vague and halting.
On the topic of what he directed Duffy to do as part of his fitness sessions, Croskery answered directly: 10 minutes of stationary biking, at an intensity comfortable enough to permit him to talk, followed by stretching and resistance training.
“We were making good progress,” Croskery told court.
But when it came to the Age Wave project, here our favourite trainer ceased to be very clear.
“Did the physical fitness aspect of the sessions continue on?” Neubauer asked.
Neubaeur is youthful and compact, and less ornery than his fellow Crown, Mark Holmes. He was the perfect guy to stick a fork in this witness. That question flustered Croskery, who was apparently in the middle of heroic efforts not to become a tomato. “It was always an aspect of our meetings,” he answered.
Croskery is the author of two limited-run books about fitness. He said that he and Duffy talked about how best to package information on how older people can stay fit—in a book, CD or on the Internet—and they discussed distribution and copyright issues, even though Croskery himself admitted he’s no expert in these matters.
“Did you get any sense from the senator as to how the project was progressing over the years?” asked Neubauer.
For all this, Croskery received nearly 10-grand in consulting fees over three years. He invoiced to companies controlled by Duffy’s friend, Gerald Donohue. How did the pair come up with this payment scheme?
“From what I remember, he came up with the numbers,” Croskery testified.
“Was that okay with you?” Neubauer said, playing the straight man to a T.
“That was fine by me,” Croskery said, doing a good job of ignoring the comedy.
Duffy, meanwhile, followed the proceedings with unflinching amour propre.
The allegation here is that Duffy bounded like the Genie of Cavendish through the precincts of Parliament Hill and Kanata, raining contracts like manna. Part of that, if true, no doubt permitted Duff to skirt the price of his stationary biking sessions. But it’s hard not to sniff an element of magnanimity gone wrong in all this, too. The Crown developed its theme with three witnesses who benefited from that Duffy largesse, suffusing the courtroom with a picaresque, This is Your Life! energy.
There was Ashley Cain, the former intern, who scored a $500 cheque from a Donohue company after putting in between 60 and 72 hours of volunteer work in Duffy’s Senate office (she now does similar, though paid, work in the Prime Minister’s Office).
Or Jacqueline Lambert, perhaps the coolest witness in Ottawa history, a makeup artist and one-time Brit who dealt with Neubauer and defence lawyer Donald Bayne, both with the aloof charm of a character from Absolutely Fabulous. A CTV veteran, she’s known Duffy for years, and is popular among the Ottawa press corps. She earned her normal rate of pay for two make-up jobs involving Duffy, then received a subpoena because Donohue cut the cheques.
“I’m glad you found me entertaining,” Lambert, wearing pearls, was heard to tell a reporter on the way out. The scrum outside the courthouse followed Lambert down Laurier, a circumstance that bored her, but that the cameras loved. Cameras can’t help loving a star.
Court reporter Nicholas Köhler on the Duffy trial:
- Day one: Mike Duffy talked for a living. On Monday, he spoke six words.
- Day two: Kafka meets Frank Capra in Courtroom 33
- Day three: The PM is just a girl he used to know
- Day four: The subject of honour and the genie of Cavendish
- Day five: Mike Duffy, patron saint of the good ol’ days
- Day six: Oversight in Canada’s Senate? There’s no such thing.
- Day seven: Plucking the wings off a visitor from fairyland