Walsh on the stand

Rob Antle
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Former MHA testifies in own defence at corruption trial

Jim Walsh spent a long and emotional day on the witness stand Wednesday, distancing himself from the man he is accused of bribing and blaming officials at the legislature for the "madness" of the constituency allowance spending scandal.

The former MHA's voice cracked and quivered as he recounted the moment he realized some of his claims pushed him over the spending limit.

Former MHA Jim Walsh (left) leaves provincial court after testifying in his own defence his fraud trial Wednesday morning. At right is his lawyer Vernon French. - Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Jim Walsh spent a long and emotional day on the witness stand Wednesday, distancing himself from the man he is accused of bribing and blaming officials at the legislature for the "madness" of the constituency allowance spending scandal.

The former MHA's voice cracked and quivered as he recounted the moment he realized some of his claims pushed him over the spending limit.

Walsh testified that he thought his per-diem amounts and some of his mileage claims came from a separate pot of money.

"It was different from my constituency allowance," Walsh said.

He said it wasn't until this March, during legal proceedings, that he was told those expenses were actually included in his constituency limit.

Those amounts, combined, totalled roughly $100,000 of his extra payments, Walsh testified.

He is accused of receiving nearly $160,000 in excess claims from 1998 to 2004.

Defence lawyer Vernon French asked the former MHA what his reaction was when he found out.

"Same as now," Walsh said, his voice breaking as he wiped tears away from his eyes.

The court recessed for a short break to allow Walsh to compose himself.

The confusion, according to Walsh's testimony, goes back to late 1996, when the then-MHA advised the legislature he was moving his primary residence to Conception Harbour.

The move qualified him for additional benefits, such as mileage between his new home and Confederation Building in St. John's and receipt-free per-diems.

Walsh told the court he believed those extra payments were not included in his constituency allowance limit.

He pointed the finger at then-clerk of the House of Assembly John Noel for not informing him.

"He did not," Walsh told the court. "He absolutely did not. He left me with the complete opposite impression."

However, House documents show that in early 1997 the legislature jacked up Walsh's total constituency allowance limit to account for his additional expenses.

Those annual limits were published in the legislature.

Walsh told the court he relied on his own staff to fill out his claim forms, and ensure they were accurate.

He said he learned a valuable lesson in 1994, when he left cabinet because of a police investigation into a campaign donation he accepted. No charges were ever laid.

"It was an extremely traumatic time for my family and myself, and I did not want something like that to happen again," Walsh told the court.

He said he told his staff they would be fired if they did not properly fill out his forms.

But Walsh could not give any reason why former House director of financial operations Bill Murray filled out his last 46 claim forms.

"I have no explanation as to how that could have happened," Walsh said. "Not at my request, I can tell you."

Murray's handwriting was identified on every claim Walsh filed during his last year and a half in politics.

That period coincided with a spike in excess payments to the MHA.

Earlier, Murray testified he received cash payments from Walsh - which he called "tokens of appreciation" - to process the extra claims.

Walsh strenuously denies that.

The former MHA said he thought his staffers were completing the forms.

And he downplayed his relationship with Murray, saying the two had no business or social ties.

"I didn't have anything to do with him on a regular basis," Walsh told the court.

He also denied asking Murray for any help.

Walsh added that he had a number of roles for which he filed expense claims, making it hard to keep track of everything.

"There were a lot of cheques coming over my desk for a lot of things," he said.

"Like any other human being, I cashed the cheque, I put it in my account."

Asked by his defence lawyer whether he knowingly defrauded the Newfoundland and Labrador government, Walsh replied, "I did not."

Crown prosecutor Frances Knickle had just begun her cross-examination of Walsh when proceedings ended for the day.

Walsh will be back on the stand this morning.

The former Liberal MHA and provincial cabinet minister is on trial for fraud over $5,000, breach of trust by a public officer and frauds on government.

rantle@thetelegram.com

Geographic location: Conception Harbour, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments