03/12/2013 04:00 EDT | Updated 05/11/2013 05:12 EDT

Crown starts laying out case at Nova Scotia spending scandal trial

HALIFAX - The Crown began methodically laying out its case as the trial of a former provincial cabinet minister charged in Nova Scotia's spending scandal got underway Tuesday in Halifax.

Russell MacKinnon, 59, pleaded not guilty last May to charges of fraud, breach of trust and uttering forged documents.

The former Liberal was one of four politicians charged in February 2011 following an investigation by the province's auditor general into constituency allowance spending. He is the first to contest the charges.

Jocelyn Scallion, the former director of administration at the Speaker's Office, was called by the Crown on Tuesday to describe the types of members' expenses that were administered by the office.

Crown lawyer Andrew Macdonald entered expense receipts as evidence that Scallion said were submitted by MacKinnon from 2003 to 2006. She said she had approved them.

Asked in each case whether or not the receipts were a cause for concern under the rules governing members expenses, Scallion replied, "No."

"If it passes all of our criteria, I would process it."

The receipts showed MacKinnon claimed secretarial expenses in 2005 and 2006 for Nicole Campbell. The claims for $500, $1,000 and $1,200 were for services not included in her salary as an employee of MacKinnon's constituency office, the court heard.

Scallion was also asked to verify payroll receipts for Campbell and George Alexander MacKeigan, who carried out administrative duties at MacKinnon's constituency office such as updating email lists and filing documents. She said they would have been paid through the Finance Department, although the money came from MacKinnon's receiptable constituency expenses after he determined their hours and rate of pay.

Five days have been set aside for MacKinnon's judge-only trial at the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. Defence lawyer Joel Pink has said he won't decide what witnesses to call, if any, until the Crown completes its case.

MacKinnon was first elected to the provincial legislature in 1988 to represent the riding of Cape Breton West and later became labour minister before quitting politics in 2006.

Two of the three other politicians also charged in the spending scandal have been sentenced.

Former Liberal Dave Wilson was sentenced last April after admitting to defrauding the public purse of nearly $61,000. He was released from custody in August after serving four months of a nine-month sentence.

Richard Hurlburt, a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, was sentenced last July to a year of house arrest after pleading guilty to charges of fraud and breach of trust.

Independent member Trevor Zinck is charged with theft over $5,000, fraud over $5,000 and breach of trust. His trial is scheduled to begin in June.