05/09/2013 12:59 EDT | Updated 07/09/2013 05:12 EDT

Manitoba Liberal executive pleads guilty to charge under Elections Act

WINNIPEG - A former executive director with the Manitoba Liberal Party admitted Thursday that he falsified signatures on nomination papers during the 2011 provincial election campaign.

Dennis Trochim, his voice at times cracking with emotion, told provincial court he was under intense stress and had been drinking when he faked signatures of support for Liberal candidates in the constituencies of Dauphin and Swan River.

"I was physically exhausted ... working 18-hour days," Trochim said.

"I just started signing things without even realizing why I did it."

Trochim pleaded guilty to one count of knowingly providing false or misleading information under the provincial elections act. Seven other charges were stayed.

Provincial court Judge Tim Killeen fined Trochim $3,500 — effectively splitting the difference between the amounts suggested by the prosecution and defence.

As one of a small number of workers for the Liberal party, which has just one legislature seat, Trochim was made the official agent for 12 candidates in 2011.

Hours before he forged the signatures, he received a phone call from his father, asking him to come visit. Trochim told the court he said no because he was too busy with the election.

"(Dad) said he had terminal cancer," Trochim, 45, recalled. His father was upset that his son chose work over family.

"Dad said: 'That (Liberal Leader) Jon Gerrard is more important than me.'"

Trochim started drinking a mixture of alcohol and energy drinks and, in an intoxicated state, decided to forge signatures. The party was having trouble in some outlying areas getting the 100 signatures Elections Manitoba requires for each candidate.

Evan Roitenberg, the prosecutor acting on behalf of the provincial elections commissioner, said he sympathized with Trochim's personal troubles. But Roitenberg pointed out Trochim denied any wrongdoing when first confronted by the commissioner's office and tried to lay the blame on someone else.

"In one instance, Mr. Trochim tried to provide the name of another person who he thought (investigators) should look at," Roitenberg told the court.

Eventually, Trochim came clean and admitted his mistakes.

Roitenberg had asked Killeen to impose a $5,000 fine. The defence asked for a $2,000 penalty.

Trochim's lawyer, Sarah Inness, pointed out he has no criminal record and was swamped by his workload.

"Mr. Trochim had taken on far more than an individual could reasonably cope with."

Trochim has since lost his job, Inness added. The Liberals initially said they stood behind him, but recently fired him, she said.

The judge expressed sympathy for Trochim, but added that forging nomination signatures is "a very, very, very serious matter," which was compounded by Trochim's decision to try to deflect blame.

"The coverup ... is sometimes worse than what occurred in the first place," Killeen said.

One of Trochim's former colleagues said Thursday that Trochim was given too many tasks by party brass.

"Dennis was far and away the hardest worker ... and did the work that five or six people in other parties were doing," said Dave Shorr, who was the party's press secretary at the time.

"That was the expectation that came from very, very high. I would say from the leader."