Forgeries helped constituents: Andersen

Rob Antle
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Former MHA convicted of uttering forged documents, breach of trust

Wally Andersen may not have represented Sherwood Forest in the House of Assembly, but the message he sent in court Wednesday was clear: tens of thousands of dollars he obtained through years of forgeries went to help his needy constituents.

"Not one cent of that money went into my personal bank account," Andersen told Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Justice Wayne Dymond.

Former Liberal MHA Wally Andersen (left) arrives at the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's with his lawyer Bern Coffey Wednesday morning. Andersen was convicted on counts of uttering forged documents and breach of trust. - Photo by J

Wally Andersen may not have represented Sherwood Forest in the House of Assembly, but the message he sent in court Wednesday was clear: tens of thousands of dollars he obtained through years of forgeries went to help his needy constituents.

"Not one cent of that money went into my personal bank account," Andersen told Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Justice Wayne Dymond.

"It went to help people."

However, Crown prosecutor Frances Knickle stressed that there was no evidence presented to the court to back up Andersen's Robin Hood-esque explanations.

"That's a factual assertion, and of course that was not part of the agreed statement of facts," Knickle told reporters outside the court.

Knickle said the Crown took no issue with the fact that Andersen may have been a generous MHA, but did not agree with his assertion that he did not benefit from any of the cash he admitted to obtaining illegally.

Andersen was convicted Wednesday after pleading guilty to uttering forged documents and breach of trust. Other fraud-related charges were dropped.

According to documents filed with the court, Andersen admitted to forging dozens of documents over an eight-year period. The forgeries, which generated payments from his taxpayer-funded constituency allowance, netted him $59,000.

The former Liberal MHA faked documents relating to a snowmobile he bought. He also filed claims - and was paid - for 69 invoices for translation services that turned out to be "fictitious." He charged for office rent for a non-existent office, transportation costs for non-existent boat trips, and consulting fees for a non-existent housing study.

Andersen also admitted to receiving $30,000 in excess discretionary payments during a two-year period.

All told, according to the agreed statement of facts, Andersen got more than $89,000 in cash to which he was not entitled.

The Crown is seeking a jail sentence of up to two years less a day in prison. In court, Knickle noted that was the same sentence handed down to former Tory cabinet minister Ed Byrne under similar circumstances.

See CROWN, page A4

"Our position is (Andersen is) held to a higher standard as an elected official handling public moneys," the prosecutor said.

The defence submission suggested that a range of six to nine months is more appropriate.

The money in question has "not added to (Andersen's) material wealth," defence lawyer Bern Coffey said.

"He is not an individual who took that money and went out and bought baubles, as it were."

Instead, Coffey suggested, the cash went to help those in "dire need" in Andersen's northern Labrador district of Torngat Mountains.

When Coffey referenced social problems in Labrador, Andersen burst into tears, sobbing loudly. A sheriff's officer brought him a box of tissues.

Coffey said Andersen had no personal demons such as addictions driving his actions.

"His weakness, such as it was, was that he couldn't say no," Coffey submitted.

"He recognizes that the means he used were criminal ... and will take responsibility for that."

Asked by the judge if he had anything to say, Andersen apologized to his family, friends and the public.

"The money didn't go into my pocket," Andersen told the court.

Actually, according to the statement of facts, he did receive all that cash.

The question of whether he then gave it away to others was not addressed in court documents.

Those documents did, however, outline the various ways Andersen forged paperwork to get the money.

In 2004, the Internal Economy Commission (IEC) - the group of politicians then in charge of the legislature - turned down Andersen's request to have the cost of a new snowmobile charged to taxpayers through his constituency allowance.

Instead, the IEC permitted Andersen to lease the snowmobile, claim the monthly payments, and charge per kilometre for gas on constituency-related travel.

But Andersen bought the snowmobile anyway, and altered the receipt to make it look like a lease instead. He traded in the snowmobile two years later for a turbo-charged model.

Meanwhile, "fictitious" translation services charged to taxpayers continued for more than eight years. The 69 faked claims totalled more than $33,000.

Andersen's fake office rental claims were filed from 2002 to 2006. He claimed $13,300 in rent during that time period. However, police investigators interviewed government officials and Andersen's own staff, who all said they had no knowledge of the MHA ever having a constituency office in Labrador. And investigators could not find any of the people who supposedly rented the space to him.

A $600 forged money order paid a hydro bill, although it was not Andersen's account.

As well, during the 2003 and 2004 fiscal years, Andersen made 17 excess claims totalling more than $30,000 for discretionary payments.

MHAs were only permitted to claim $5,500, receipt-free, in each of those years. The $30,000 in claims was over and above that. The limit in 2004 was bumped by the now-infamous retroactive $2,875 bonus. Andersen took that as well.

Reports by Auditor General John Noseworthy in 2006 sparked police investigations into Andersen and other MHAs.

Noseworthy found that Andersen had overspent his allowance by $341,589.

In court documents filed Wednesday, that number was revised down to $227,431, largely due to the removal of HST.

The criminal amount of over $89,000 is included in that total.

A civil action is underway to recover excess claims paid to Andersen and other MHAs. Andersen has repaid some $71,000 to date.

It recently emerged in the Jim Walsh corruption trial that the government has started to claw back some pension payments due to the MHAs as part of that process.

Lawyers apparently found a technicality in the law allowing them to do so; previously, pensions were thought to be untouchable. The Department of Finance declined to answer questions explaining how and why the change came about.

Andersen is the third of four MHAs charged to plead guilty in relation to the House spending scandal.

He is expected back in court Friday morning for Dymond's decision on sentencing.

rantle@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Justice Wayne Dymond, Internal Economy Commission, Department of Finance

Geographic location: Sherwood Forest, Labrador, Northern Labrador Torngat Mountains

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