Trevor Zinck pleaded guilty in June to fraud over $5,000 and breach of trust for accepting reimbursements 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.
Just before Nova Scotia Supreme Court Judge Glen McDougall handed down his sentence, Zinck stood in the Halifax courtroom and delivered several apologies.
"Today, I want to apologize to my family for the tremendous amount of stress that I put them under (and) to the people of Dartmouth North," he said, referring to his former constituents in the Halifax area. "There are people out there who I've let down and disappointed. I'm embarrassed and I apologize."
Zinck was the last of four politicians to plead guilty to offences connected to a spending scandal that erupted at the provincial legislature more than three years ago.
His guilty pleas came on the fifth day of his trial. A charge of theft over $5,000 was stayed.
"There are people out there that don't know me and have the right to hold me in disdain," he said. "I can only offer up my apologies to those Nova Scotians who have lost faith in politicians."
During a one-day sentencing hearing last week, Crown attorney Andrew Macdonald said Zinck committed fraud with deliberate, meticulous precision. The lawyer said Zinck's expense-related paperwork was always on time and complete, giving the fraudulent claims a "veneer of legitimacy."
Macdonald told the judge he should reject Zinck's suggestion that his crimes were motivated by recklessness that stemmed from a disorganized office, personal challenges and confusion about the expense claim process for members of the legislature.
On Wednesday, McDougall accepted the Crown's arguments with little reservation.
"I am not in the least persuaded that this course of conduct was anything but wilful intent," the judge said. "It was a blatant attempt to defraud the taxpayers of this province of their hard-earned tax dollars."
McDougall said it was clear Zinck understood the rules and was fully aware that he was using non-profit groups and individuals as unwitting props to feed his feelings of greed.
"You have tarnished the image of all the good people who have had the courage to stand for elected office," the judge told the 42-year-old former store manager. "You have failed in your commitments and you must now pay the price for that failure."
In an agreed statement of facts submitted at the beginning of the trial, Zinck confirmed he was given more than $10,000 from the Speaker's Office to cover constituency expenses during an 11-month period. Zinck also confirmed that he never paid those owed money, except one group that received a partial payment.
The total was later dropped to about $9,000 because the Crown accepted Zinck's explanations in two instances.
More than half the money 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 a Dartmouth dad looking for a hockey sponsorship for his son.
The father, James Moore, testified that his son couldn't play in a spring hockey league because Zinck failed to come through on a promise to provide an $860 sponsorship.
In court, the Crown 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.
Other records presented as evidence showed 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. Other banking records showed a long series of withdrawals made from ATMs at local bars.
Zinck, who was also sentenced to 12 months probation, has denied having drinking or gambling problems, but the judge didn't buy it.
"Given Mr. Zinck's assertions that he does not suffer from alcohol or gambling addictions, to order counselling might not do him much good," McDougall said.
First elected as an NDP member in 2006 and re-elected in 2009, Zinck was kicked out of the NDP caucus in March 2010 when the party learned that he wasn't keeping up with paying his bills.
He initially refused to quit politics following his guilty pleas, but resigned after the Speaker announced the legislature would be recalled to deal with his possible expulsion.
Zinck was one of four politicians charged in February 2011 after an investigation by the province's auditor general into constituency allowance claims a year earlier revealed scores of examples of excessive and inappropriate spending.