POLITICS

Fundraising letter under scrutiny in Nova Scotia politician's fraud trial

06/12/2013 11:54 EDT | Updated 08/12/2013 05:12 EDT
HALIFAX - A former member of a community group, testifying Wednesday at the fraud trial of a Nova Scotia politician, said he did not write or sign a fundraising letter addressed to the accused lawmaker even though the document appears to have his name and signature on it.

The authenticity of the letter — first presented as evidence Monday — came under intense scrutiny on Day 3 of the trial of Independent member Trevor Zinck, who was charged in 2011 with theft over $5,000, fraud over $5,000 and breach of trust.

In an agreed statement of facts, the former member of the NDP caucus has admitted that the Speaker's Office reimbursed him for $10,000 in expense claims he filed in 2008 and 2009 even though he did not pay the suppliers listed in his claims.

His lawyer, Lyle Howe, has focused his line of questioning on the lack of financial training for new members of the legislature and the somewhat confusing nature of the internal rules governing expense claims. Zinck was elected in 2006, but he was kicked out of the NDP caucus in 2010 amid allegations he had failed to pay his bills.

On Wednesday, witness Brian LeBlanc told Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax that he couldn't have written the letter in question because it was riddled with grammatical errors that he would not have made.

"The style of writing is not my own," said LeBlanc, who now works for the Department of Finance in Alberta. "I make my living writing."

He also said the signature wasn't his, at one point producing his driver's licence to show the difference.

The letter appears to be from the Dartmouth District 9 Citizen's Association, a community group based in Zinck's Dartmouth North riding. LeBlanc said he served as the group's vice-chairman between 2006 and 2008.

Court heard that the document includes a request for funding to Zinck for a local, late-night basketball program, which LeBlanc had organized for disadvantaged youth.

LeBlanc confirmed that he had formally requested funding from Zinck in an earlier email, which disappeared when he later closed the email account. However, LeBlanc said he quickly withdrew the request after telling the backbench politician in early 2008 that the program had obtained a grant from the provincial Justice Department.

Crown attorney Mark Heerema then produced an approved expense claim from Zinck that included a copy of a duplicate cheque for $2,000 made out to the community group.

"It's the first time I've seen it," LeBlanc said, confirming that the group did not receive financial support from Zinck.

Earlier, a retired bureaucrat testified that Zinck routinely submitted duplicate cheques and letters seeking donations as part of expense claims that were reimbursed under regulations that have since been tightened.

When Howe asked LeBlanc if someone else working for the group could have written the fundraising letter, LeBlanc confirmed that at least one other colleague had written a fundraising proposal at the time.

However, when asked if that person or anyone else could have signed a document on his behalf, he said, "No. I am not aware."

Outside the courtroom, when Zinck was asked if he had forged the cheque, he replied, "Absolutely not."

Later in the day, the former executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of North Dartmouth, Nancy Hollis, testified that her group had solicited a $5,000 donation from Zinck, which he had verbally agreed to pay in 2008 but never delivered.

When the Crown showed Hollis duplicate cheques of varying amounts made out to the group from Zinck, she denied receiving any funds from him.

"We did not receive it," she told the court.

Zinck is expected to testify, but it remains unclear when that will happen. Ten days have been set aside for the judge-only trial.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the testimony happened Tuesday and that a funding request for a local, late-night basketball program was made from Zinck.