07/05/2012 03:10 EDT | Updated 09/03/2012 05:12 EDT

Richard Hurlburt, Former Cabinet Minister, Committed Fraud Totalling Over $25,000

YARMOUTH, N.S. - A former Nova Scotia cabinet minister sobbed openly in court on Thursday as he expressed his regret and took full responsibility for his role in a scandal that saw him defraud the province of just over $25,000.

"I am particularly concerned for my grandchildren," Richard Hurlburt told a sentencing hearing as he slumped while standing next to his lawyer, Stan MacDonald.

He said he was proud of the way his grandchildren handled taunting at school about his role in the province's spending scandal before apologizing to his family, constituents and former political colleagues.

"I am ashamed and feel I have paid a price for the past 2 1/2 years," said Hurlburt, 62, who pleaded guilty in April to charges of fraud and breach of trust. " I hope this will not prevent people from participating in the political process."

Justice David MacAdam of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia reserved a decision on Hurlburt's sentence until July 27.

An agreed statement of facts says Hurlburt committed fraud totalling $25,320.77 between December 2006 and December 2008. The statement presented in court says he submitted four claims for expenses that were not incurred in his constituency work.

Court also heard that Hurlburt reimbursed the Speaker's Office $11,073 in February 2010 and $14,247 last month.

The false claims submitted by Hurlburt include one for a $9,000 Honda generator that was not purchased.

Two other expense claims total nearly $13,000 for renovations to his constituency office. Hurlburt was reimbursed more than $5,000 for renovations that were not done.

He was also reimbursed more than $3,500 for the purchase and installation of a 40-inch LCD television at his home.

In his sentencing argument, Crown attorney Andrew Macdonald said Hurlburt committed a significant breach of the public's trust and deserves a sentence in line with what was given to Dave Wilson, a former Liberal member of the legislature who was sentenced to nine months in jail.

He recommended a sentence of between nine and 12 months in jail, followed by a period of probation for Hurlburt.

Outside court, Macdonald said the sentence should act as a deterrence and publicly denounce Hurlburt's actions.

In Wilson's case, he said the court took into account that his actions were driven by a gambling addiction.

"That's not the case in these circumstances, so despite the fact there's a different dollar amount I'm saying we should be treating the cases similarly."

Defence lawyer Stan MacDonald said Hurlburt deserves credit because he had shown remorse, apologized and paid the money back.

He called for a nine-month conditional sentence consisting of six months of house arrest and three months of curfew, as well as 200 hours of community service. He said if any jail time is necessary, it should be served on an intermittent basis.

"Why should (his actions) deserve a jail term when his actions subsequent to the events have been exemplary," MacDonald told reporters.

"I mean, he has done all that he can to make up for what's happened, so you don't have to go to jail."

Three people testified at the hearing on Hurlburt's character, describing him as remorseful and as someone who has paid a price for his actions.

"We have talked many times and I know it has taken a heavy toll on him emotionally and physically," said Bill Newell, a retired Baptist minister who has been a family friend for 35 years.

"I know he has many regrets."

Local lawyer Martin Pink told the court his friend has been troubled by what happened and has lost about 30 pounds.

He said Hurlburt played a major role in helping get significant projects completed in the community.

"This very building that we are sitting in right now is one example," he said.

Hurlburt is the second former member of the legislature to plead guilty in the scandal after Wilson admitted to defrauding the public purse of $61,000 to feed his gambling addiction.

Independent member Trevor Zinck and former Liberal Russell MacKinnon also face charges related to the scandal that broke following a 2010 report by auditor general Jacques Lapointe.

MacKinnon has pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud, breach of trust and uttering forged documents. His trial is scheduled to start in March.

A preliminary hearing wrapped up last month for Zinck and his lawyer said at the time it could be a year before the case goes to trial.

Hurlburt was a cabinet minister in the Progressive Conservative governments of former premiers John Hamm and Rodney MacDonald, serving in a number of portfolios including natural resources and energy.

He quit politics soon after the report was released, but not before initially defending the purchase of the generator as a valid expense. Court heard he later purchased a cheaper generator and had it installed at his home.

At the time he said it could be used in emergencies by a nearby seniors' home and for ground search and rescue teams.

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