N.S. auditor general says five may have broken law in expense scandal

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Nova Scotia's auditor general has asked the RCMP to investigate four former and one current member of the legislature for possible criminal wrongdoing involving their expense claims.
In a report released Tuesday, auditor general Jacques Lapointe doesn't name names or provide any other details about the five cases in an expense scandal that has dominated the province's political scene for months.
"Based on the results of my investigation, I believe four former members and one current member of the house of assembly may have committed illegal acts related to their constituency expense claims," Lapointe said in a two-page letter to Charlie Parker, the Speaker of the legislature.
"Due to the serious nature of my findings, I determined it would not be appropriate for my office to continue to do additional work in regard to these specific individuals. Accordingly, we referred our investigation files for these five individuals to the RCMP for criminal investigation."
Lapointe began the deeper forensic investigation after a report in February highlighted a number of inappropriate purchases by members of all parties between July 2006 and June 2009.
It led to at least one resignation and caused the government to announce changes in the way expense accounts for members of the legislature are governed and how they are publicly reported.
The initial audit revealed questionable purchases from constituency expense accounts, including big-screen TVs, an espresso machine, custom-built furniture, computers, digital cameras and even a video game.
Lapointe's latest audit is a more specific examination of a group of legislature members, which he has said he launched after receiving new information.
"Due to the sensitive nature of this investigation it would not be appropriate for me to release publicly the names and related details of the members' files passed on to the RCMP," he said in the letter. "Release of such information might hamper the criminal investigations."
The RCMP said the investigation will be handled by its commercial crime section.
"Our goal is to determine any criminal activity," said Sgt. Brigdit Leger. "As for the specifics, the RCMP will not be releasing that information as it is evidentiary at this point."
Leger said names will only be released if charges are laid.

"This is going to be a complex multi-faceted investigation," she said in an interview. "It will involve numerous stakeholders and these investigations generally take a significant amount of time."
Two politicians have quit since Lapointe's first audit, but it isn't known whether they were part of the forensic audit.
David Wilson, the former Liberal member for Glace Bay, has never revealed his reason for stepping down. However, during the first audit it was revealed he spent money on patio furniture. Wilson has said he voluntarily repaid the $400 for the furniture last year.
Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil has said Wilson was asked by Lapointe to meet with him on Feb. 26, but declined.
Richard Hurlburt, the former Conservative member for Yarmouth, also quit after being criticized for spending $8,000 on a generator that he installed at his own home, which he initially said was for the use of a nearby home for senior citizens. In his resignation letter, Hurlburt apologized "for this misstep" and repaid the money to the province.
Lapointe confirmed Monday that Trevor Zinck, an Independent member of the legislature for Dartmouth North, was one of the politicians included in the second audit, but he wouldn't discuss details. It isn't known whether his case was one of those referred to police for investigation.
Zinck was in his constituency office on Tuesday but a member of his staff said he was not available to comment because of meetings.
The former New Democrat was added to the forensic audit after the Speaker of the house referred the matter to Lapointe's office. Speaker Charlie Parker said the Zinck case was added to the forensic investigation because of allegations that emerged from the NDP caucus in March.
Parker said that unlike other members of the legislature, Zinck was being investigated for matters that occurred after June 2009, as well as during the original audit time period.
The NDP kicked Zinck out of its caucus in March, saying it lost trust in him after he had been reimbursed for unpaid bills in his constituency office. Parker then referred the matter to Lapointe's office.
Zinck has admitted being late in paying constituency office bills for electricity, telephone and Internet because of a turnover in his office staff and because he had to assist in the care of his ailing father. He has said his constituency office bills were paid.
Zinck criticized the Speaker for asking the auditor general to look at the matter, saying he believes Parker overstepped his authority.
On the even of the report's release, both opposition leaders called on Lapointe to provide the names of any politicians who have been referred to the RCMP for a criminal investigation.
"It's certainly my hope those names would come out," McNeil said Monday. "It leaves a cloud over the entire house of assembly."
Interim Conservative Leader Karen Casey also urged Lapointe to release names.
"People are asking: 'Is it my member of the legislature?' They have a right to know that," she said.
The spending scandal has already resulted in changes to the system of expense claims made by members of the legislature.
Last month the NDP government introduced legislation that would create, among other things, a new commission to oversee the spending of the house and an audit committee that would include two non-members of the legislature appointed by the province's chief justice to oversee spending.
Lapointe said the changes show the value of his earlier audit.
"It's been treated very seriously and the actions that have been taken have occurred quickly," he said Monday.

Organizations: RCMP, NDP

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Glace Bay, Dartmouth North

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