05/16/2014 02:49 EDT | Updated 07/16/2014 05:59 EDT

Quebec union boss admits to falsified bills but lawyer says actions aren't fraud

MONTREAL - The lawyer for an-ex Quebec union boss who admitted to falsifying bills to inflate his expenses says no fraud was committed because the money was ultimately returned to the membership he allegedly stole from.

Delivering closing arguments at Jocelyn Dupuis' fraud trial on Friday, defence lawyer Jean-Daniel Debkoski said his client intended no malice.

Dupuis was director-general of the Quebec Federation of Labour's construction wing between 1997 and 2008.

The former union boss is accused of billing the labour organization for tens of thousands of dollars in expenses by using fake or inflated bills.

Dupuis resigned abruptly after the extravagant expenses issue became public.

The charges against him relate to alleged offences between December 2007 and November 2008, a period in which he filed 43 expense accounts totalling $225,000.

During the trial, provincial police witnesses said investigators identified 144 bills they say could represent more than $63,000 in fake or inflated invoices.

Of those, half are fake bills with no verifiable transaction record available, police said. The other half are allegedly inflated, with investigators having tracked down original receipts they say were far less than what was billed for.

The majority of those expenses were lavish restaurant bills.

Debkoski said union brass was aware and accepted the practice because Dupuis often paid union-related expenses out of pocket.

"Was it a lack of elegance, of tact, of transparency? Yes. But at the time, everyone knew," Debkoski told Quebec court Judge Denis Lavergne.

Debkoski said that while some of Dupuis's actions, such as billing expensive bottles of wines, may not have been morally justifiable, they do not constitute fraud because there was no criminal intent and no harm was caused to another party.

To that, Lavergne expressed skepticism that all of the money Dupuis claimed ended up going back to the workers.

Provincial police investigators showed at the trial that Dupuis didn't hesitate to order $300 or $400 bottles of wine at restaurants. In one instance, he claimed $1,500 for a meal when the bill was $1,100. The meal was on a Sunday in December when the construction wing was officially on holiday.

In another example, Dupuis claimed $7,800 for four meals for which he did have proper receipts while on a union trip to California and Las Vegas in March 2008.

Crown prosecutor Jacques Dagenais said there was no evidence the money was for the benefit of workers at all.

The point of union dues is to provide services to members. But Dagenais questioned the tactic of billing pricey meals and expensive wines to the union.

The Crown noted that many of these meal tabs came in at $1,000, $2,000 and even $3,000 and were certainly not acceptable expenses.

"On Saturday nights? With colleagues from the same office and their wives?" Dagenais asked. Many of the billed events were outside of regular business hours or on weekends.

The prosecutor called the scheme "insane," "absurd," and "illogical." He also dismissed the defence's arguments as "laughable."

A union accountant testified at the trial that Dupuis was the only one to give handwritten receipts because he didn't use a union-issue credit card. The expenses were accepted without any verification.

Lavergne is set to hand down his verdict on Sept. 26.

Dupuis will be tried separately, at a later date, on one count of inciting another person to file fake documents.