POLITICS

Former Nova Scotia politician charged in spending scandal to stand trial

01/16/2012 01:26 EST | Updated 03/17/2012 05:12 EDT
HALIFAX - A former member of the Nova Scotia legislature implicated in a scandal involving constituency spending has been committed to stand trial on charges of fraud, breach of trust and uttering forged documents.

Russell MacKinnon had no comment following a preliminary hearing Monday in Halifax provincial court. The hearing was held to determine if there was enough evidence to send MacKinnon to trial.

All of the evidence presented by three Crown witnesses is banned from publication or broadcast.

MacKinnon, a former Liberal, faces 10 charges, one each of fraud over $5,000 and breach of trust by a public official, while the remaining eight counts are related to uttering forged documents.

The Cape Breton politician is one of four Nova Scotia politicians — only one of whom is still a member of the legislature — charged last February with fraud and breach of trust.

MacKinnon elected trial by Supreme Court judge alone during a court appearance last April.

Crown prosecutor Andrew Macdonald said outside court that the witnesses who testified Monday were the ones MacKinnon's lawyer was most interested in hearing from.

Macdonald said many more witnesses are expected to testify during the trial.

MacKinnon is to return to court March 15 to set a date for a pre-trail conference.

Joel Pink, MacKinnon's lawyer, said his client will fight the charges.

"We'll get this matter before the Supreme Court as soon as we can," Pink said outside provincial court. "There is absolutely no chance that there will be a guilty plea."

Last September, former Liberal Dave Wilson pleaded guilty to his role in the spending scandal.

Court heard the former caucus chairman was involved in a scheme that involved falsifying legislature expense claims over several years.

Wilson, the former member for Glace Bay, was charged with 31 counts of uttering forged documents and one count each of fraud and breach of trust. The Crown and defence later agreed to consolidate the 31 counts of uttering forged documents into a single charge.

The Crown said Wilson's crimes spanned five years, beginning June 30, 2005.

Wilson will be sentenced Jan. 25.

The scandal erupted in February 2010 after provincial auditor general Jacques Lapointe released a report that revealed what he described as excessive and inappropriate spending of constituency funds.

Lapointe found that thousands of dollars in public funds had been spent on a range of items, including power generators, TVs, custom-made furniture, laptops and cameras.

A subsequent forensic audit was handed to the RCMP, which prompted a nine-month investigation.

Another former member of the legislature, Conservative Richard Hurlburt, has been charged with fraud over $5,000, breach of trust by a public officer and uttering forged documents. Former NDP member Trevor Zinck, who currently sits as an Independent has been charged with fraud over $5,000, breach of trust and two counts of theft over $5,000.

They have not entered pleas.

MacKinnon was first elected to represent Cape Breton West in 1988. He held the seat until he resigned in 1995 to protest the creation of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

He won the seat back in 1998, but resigned from the party in 2005 to sit as an Independent until he stepped down before the 2006 election.