POLITICS

Expense rules could've been clearer, fraud trial of Nova Scotia politician told

06/11/2013 12:17 EDT | Updated 08/11/2013 05:12 EDT
HALIFAX - The trial of a sitting member of the Nova Scotia legislature charged with fraud heard Tuesday from a retired bureaucrat who testified that the internal rules governing expense claims could have been clearer.

Trevor Zinck, an Independent member of the legislature who used to sit as a member of the governing NDP, was charged in 2011 with theft over $5,000, fraud over $5,000 and breach of trust in relation to 10 expense claims filed in 2008-09 for which he was reimbursed $10,060.

In an agreed statement of facts presented to the court Monday, Zinck admitted that he received the funds from the Office of the Speaker even though he never paid the suppliers listed on the claims.

His lawyer, Lyle Howe, has suggested the rules for expense claims were unclear and that new members received very little training on how to handle their finances.

Howe spent much of Tuesday putting questions about the rules to Jocelyn Scallion, a former director of administration for the Office of the Speaker who retired in March 2010.

Scallion told Nova Scotia Supreme Court that aside from an orientation session that briefly dealt with how to file claims, she was unaware of any formal training offered to new members on how to manage their finances.

When asked if she thought that was a problem, Scallion said: "No. I didn't determine the rules."

As well, Howe repeatedly asked Scallion about claims Zinck filed that included duplicates of cheques and letters from community groups seeking funding in exchange for sponsorship advertising.

Scallion told the court the duplicate cheques and letters supplied by Zinck qualified as receipts and invoices even though neither document provided actual proof of payment.

"To me, that meant that the member did pay that," she testified.

Scallion also confirmed she never contacted Zinck or the suppliers to determine whether payments were actually made.

"There was no need to," she said. "He provided sufficient documentation for the claims."

Later in the day, Howe asked Scallion if she thought the rules were too lax.

"No, not too lax," she told the Halifax courtroom. "There were always questions that members would have. And there would be discussion ... But there was always a solution."

Still, Scallion went on to say some misunderstandings could have been avoided if the rules were more precise.

"With some questions, it would have been better to have clearer regulations," she said.

The rules surrounding expense claims for Nova Scotia politicians have since been changed, but Scallion said she couldn't comment on that because she retired a month after the province's auditor general released a bombshell report that raised questions about inappropriate and irregular spending among lawmakers.

The report sparked an RCMP investigation that eventually led to charges in February 2011 against Zinck and three former members of the legislature. The three other politicians have already been sentenced after pleading guilty to a variety of charges.

Outside the courtroom, Zinck thanked constituents from Dartmouth North who had showed up to support him.

"I've very humbled by the amount of support I've been given," he said. "I'm looking forward to this progressing and getting through next week. I'm very happy with my legal representation. ... I'm very confident."

Zinck was kicked out of the NDP caucus in March 2010 over unpaid bills.