Judge to decide Walsh's fate

Rob Antle
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Verdict set for Dec. 7 in corruption trial of former MHA

Victim or villain? A provincial court judge will now decide which of those two starkly contrasting tags applies to former MHA Jim Walsh.

In court Monday, defence lawyer Vernon French painted Walsh as an unwitting casualty of a corrupt official "running amok" and a system that offered only "false protection" during the era of the House of Assembly spending scandal.

Flanked by his lawyer, Vernon French (left), former MHA Jim Walsh sits in the courtroom at Provincial Court Monday during the final day of his trial on corruption charges. Final summations by French and Crown attorney Frances Knickle concluded Monday afte

Victim or villain? A provincial court judge will now decide which of those two starkly contrasting tags applies to former MHA Jim Walsh.

In court Monday, defence lawyer Vernon French painted Walsh as an unwitting casualty of a corrupt official "running amok" and a system that offered only "false protection" during the era of the House of Assembly spending scandal.

Crown prosecutor Frances Knickle, meanwhile, pointed to contradictions in how Walsh tried to explain away nearly $160,000 in overspending from his constituency allowance account. All that cash went into his personal bank account.

She said the former MHA made statements that "can't be reconciled with the rest of the evidence."

Now it is up to Judge David Orr to sift through a small forest of paper and weeks of testimony.

He will render his verdict Dec. 7.

Walsh - a former Liberal MHA and provincial cabinet minister - is charged with fraud over $5,000, breach of trust by a public officer and frauds on government.

The charges relate to excess claims totalling $159,316 from his taxpayer-funded constituency allowance between 1998 and 2004.

Proceedings against Walsh wrapped up Monday, following 27 days of testimony spread over seven months.

His defence lawyer alleged Walsh was the "patsy" of a House of Assembly official who was stealing money to feed a gambling addiction.

French alleged that official - former director of finance Bill Murray - was faking claims, including Walsh's, for his personal benefit.

"Jim Walsh, in his own way, was a victim of Bill Murray's fraud," French told the court.

"Jim Walsh also fell victim to Murray's addiction."

The defence lawyer stressed there was no proof that Walsh bribed Murray.

Earlier in the trial, Murray testified that he had received "tokens of appreciation" - consisting of cash-stuffed envelopes - from the then-MHA to process extra claims.

On Monday, French called Murray's testimony inconsistent and not credible.

He said the bureaucrat changed his story several times about how much he received in alleged bribes, and where the transactions took place.

French also noted there was no paper trail confirming the kickbacks. During earlier testimony, Walsh vehemently denied bribing Murray.

While French did acknowledge that all the cash generated by the excess claims went into Walsh's bank account, he said his client did not intentionally overspend.

The defence lawyer also spread the blame to Walsh's staff and the officials at the legislature in charge of policing the system.

No one, he said, picked up any problems at the time.

But the Crown prosecutor sketched a very different picture for Orr.

Knickle said Walsh gave three different, and conflicting, reasons to explain away his excess claims - that he didn't know he was over his spending limit; that he had permission for his overspending; and that some of his claims were in a special category that didn't count against his limit.

"It's illogical; it's irreconcilable," Knickle said of the shifting story.

The prosecutor said the evidence showed that Walsh knew his spending limit was $30,500 per year.

"Mr. Walsh received all those cheques," she said. "He has to know he is over (the limit)."

Knickle called it "classic willful blindness" by Walsh.

A forensic auditor previously testified that Walsh breached his spending limit more and more quickly as the years went on.

In 2003, Walsh blew through his limit just two months into the fiscal year.

But the MHA continued filing another $70,000 in claims until his defeat in the election held just four months later.

Knickle also zeroed in on Walsh's discretionary spending in his latter years as an MHA.

Those payments - which were included in the overall constituency allowance envelope - did not require receipts.

But they were capped at $5,500 per year.

"That rule is Rule No 8 ... it was very clear," Knickle said.

"There was a lot more claimed than that $5,500."

In 2002-03, Walsh received an extra $18,809 above that amount. He got another $8,417 above the cap during the six months he served in 2003-04.

Knickle also pointed to evidence showing that Murray was actually filling out all of Walsh's claims for him during his last 18 months in office.

That coincided with a spike in excess payments.

She said Walsh took the attitude that "if no one's going to stop me, I'm going to keep spending. That's what he did."

Before the lawyers delivered their closing arguments, one final defence witness made a brief appearance Monday.

Former MHA and current MP Judy Foote testified that Murray ran $2,500 in false claims through her constituency account without her knowledge, or permission.

Under cross-examination, Foote indicated that her limit was clearly set out by the legislature, and her office kept close tabs to ensure she didn't breach it.

"I knew what I was entitled to spend," Foote said.

rantle@thetelegram.com

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