POLITICS

Former Nova Scotia politician Trevor Zinck committed fraud with precision: Crown

10/01/2013 04:00 EDT | Updated 11/30/2013 05:12 EST
HALIFAX - A former Nova Scotia politician who defrauded the provincial government of more than $5,000 did so with meticulous precision and with no regard for the charitable groups he claimed to be helping, a Crown attorney told Trevor Zinck's sentencing hearing Tuesday.

Andrew Macdonald told Nova Scotia Supreme Court Judge Glen McDougall that he should reject Zinck's assertion that his crimes were motivated by recklessness that stemmed from a disorganized office and confusion about the expense claim process for members of the legislature.

"This was not a momentary lapse in judgment, nor was it a spontaneous or impulsive act, nor was it a reckless act," Macdonald said.

"It's the Crown's position that Trevor Zinck committed a serious breach of trust while serving as the MLA for Dartmouth North. It was a deliberate act of fraud."

Zinck pleaded guilty in June to fraud over $5,000 and breach of trust for accepting about $9,000 from the Speaker's Office to cover constituency expenses in 2008 and 2009, even though he didn't pay those he claimed were owed money, except for a partial amount to one group.

During his trial, prosecution witnesses testified that organizations that were supposed to receive donations through Zinck's office never received their cheques.

Macdonald said there was no "eureka moment" when Zinck realized he had not paid the charitable groups that were named in his fraudulent expense claims.

"He filed claim after claim, knowing he had not paid them a cent," he said. "He was quite proficient at going to the well. He just forgot what the water was for."

The groups that were supposed to get money included the local Boys and Girls Club, a local citizen's group, the father of an eight-year-old boy who couldn't play in a spring hockey league because his family didn't have the money, and a Dartmouth woodworking shop that employs mentally challenged workers, which received a partial payment.

Macdonald is asking for a four- to six-month jail term followed by probation.

The judge said he will issue his sentencing decision Oct. 9. Zinck is expected to make a statement to the court at that time.

Earlier Tuesday, defence lawyer Lyle Howe submitted a brief that argued his client did not possess the wilful intent to commit fraud.

"There is a spectrum of levels of mental intent," Howe told the Halifax courtroom. He said if wilful intent is at the high end of the spectrum then his client was at the other end, where recklessness is behind the intent.

Howe said there is ample evidence to suggest Zinck did not receive proper training on how to run his office and that he was a poor administrator who was left confused by the rules of the legislature.

He also said Zinck followed the rules and procedures as he understood them, but there was a lack of oversight in his office.

Howe said his client should receive a suspended or conditional sentence, based on mitigating factors that include Zinck's clean record, his contributions to the community and his decision to plead guilty to the charges.

"He did accept responsibility," Howe said. "He's already suffered greatly because of his actions."

As for Zinck's culpability, Howe told the judge he should consider the fact that the acts of fraud were not part of some complex scheme.

"The funds just didn't make it to the ultimate recipients," he said. "It's pretty straight forward."

Macdonald told the judge that if he accepts the defence argument, it lowers Zinck's level of culpability. But the suggestion that Zinck was simply reckless with his office functions represents a "desperate and disingenuous attempt to minimize his responsibility," Macdonald said.

"Mr. Zinck set out to intentionally deceive the taxpayers of Nova Scotia. ... We submit that he made sure that his paperwork had a veneer of legitimacy to it."

Macdonald then cited the example of the hockey player whose father asked Zinck for a donation in exchange for putting Zinck's name on the boy's jersey — an acceptable form of advertising under the legislature's rules.

During his trial, court heard that Zinck submitted an expense claim for the donation using a cancelled cheque as a receipt. He was reimbursed $860. But when the father asked about the money, Zinck told him there was none available.

"You don't have to be well educated to know what Trevor Zinck did was wrong," Macdonald said.

Zinck, who sat as an Independent after he was kicked out of the NDP caucus, initially refused to quit politics following his guilty plea, but resigned after the Speaker announced the legislature would be recalled to deal with his possible expulsion.

Three other former politicians have also pleaded guilty to fraud-related charges that stemmed from a 2010 investigation by the province's auditor general into questionable constituency allowance spending.

In court Tuesday, Howe said Zinck has felt great shame in his community, but Macdonald said those feelings weren't apparent when he originally pleaded not guilty to the charges and kept his seat in the legislature for years after he was charged.

"There's no real evidence of shame or remorse here," Macdonald said.

As he left the courtroom, Zinck declined to comment on the case. But when he was asked who he would vote for when the provincial election is held Oct. 8, he named the Progressive Conservative candidate in his riding.