POLITICS

Politician broke promise to sponsor boy who wanted to play hockey, trial told

06/13/2013 10:31 EDT | Updated 08/13/2013 05:12 EDT
HALIFAX - The father of a young hockey player, testifying at the fraud trial of a Nova Scotia politician, told court Thursday his son couldn't play in a spring hockey league because the accused lawmaker failed to come through on a promise to provide an $860 sponsorship.

James Moore said Trevor Zinck, charged in 2011 with theft over $5,000, fraud over $5,000 and breach of trust, had told him in February 2008 that he would sponsor the eight-year-old, then reneged six weeks later, saying the money wasn't available.

In court, Crown prosecutor Mark Heerema then showed Moore a duplicate cheque for $860 that Zinck had made out to Moore. The document was attached to a March 2008 expense claim filed by Zinck and approved for reimbursement by the Speaker's Office.

Moore said he had never seen the cheque before and he confirmed that Zinck gave him no money in 2008, though the legislator did come through with a $200 sponsorship the following year.

"It's not the right way to do things and I just hope justice is served," Moore said outside the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. "I knew this guy. He was our MLA."

In an agreed statement of facts, Zinck has admitted that the Speaker's Office reimbursed him for $10,060 in expense claims he filed in 2008 and 2009 even though he never paid those listed in his claims, aside from a partial payment to one group — Lake City Woodworkers.

More than half of the $10,060 was supposed to go to the Boys and Girls Club of Dartmouth. Other duplicate cheques — used as receipts in Zinck's expense claims — were made out to the Dartmouth District 9 Citizens Association, Lake City Woodworkers and Moore.

Earlier this week, people who used to work for the citizens association and the Boys and Girls club testified that Zinck never gave them donations he had claimed as expenses.

Gus Brushett, business manager for the non-profit woodworking shop, testified Thursday that Zinck had paid $660 to play in a charity golf tournament in the summer of 2008. However, Zinck's expense claims show he was reimbursed for $1,200 in April 2008.

Later in the day, the Crown also introduced as evidence bank records showing a series of late-night withdrawals made from Zinck's personal and constituency accounts — all of them made in 2008 from automated bank machines inside Casino Nova Scotia in Halifax.

Crown attorney Andrew Macdonald declined to respond outside court when asked about the purpose of introducing the records in court.

Zinck, speaking outside the court, said: "I've never denied that every once in a while I go to the casino. A lot of people do. Did that take away from my ability to pay the expenses I was obligated to? No."

The member for Dartmouth North has admitted in the past to gambling problems.

He's also admitted to being late in paying constituency office bills for electricity, telephone and Internet services due to turnover in his office staff and because he had to help care for his ailing father.

In earlier testimony Thursday, a senior provincial bureaucrat testified that the rules governing expense claims for members of the legislature prior to 2010 lacked clarity.

Byron Rafuse, associate deputy minister of finance, said he was asked to conduct a review of the claim process in 2010, after the province's auditor general released a report that cited scores of examples of excessive and inappropriate spending.

The auditor's probe led to an RCMP investigation and charges against three former politicians and Zinck, who now sits as an Independent. Zinck was kicked out of the NDP caucus in Mach 2010.

Rafuse told the court that his review of the legislature's internal business practices led him to conclude the system had to be changed.

"There definitely were weaknesses," he told Lyle Howe, Zinck's lawyer. "There was a lack of clarity in what was an allowable expense."

Howe has made a point of asking witnesses about the limited financial guidance offered to new members of the legislature, and he has suggested the expense claim rules — drafted by members of the legislature on a secretive committee — were confusing and open to wide interpretation.

The judge-only trial resumes Monday.

"It's going to be a full week," Zinck said outside court. "It's going to be an extensive defence."