Murray jailed for two years

Sentence in line with submission to judge

Rob Antle rantle@thetelegram.com
Published on February 23, 2010
Bill Murray is handcuffed before being led out of Supreme Court in St. John's Monday. Murray was sentenced to two years in jail after he pleaded guilty to one count of fraud over $5,000 and three counts of accepting bribes. Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Bill Murray received two years' jail time Monday for his actions at the centre of a political scandal that saw taxpayer dollars illegally piped to a circle of corrupt politicians - and, through kickbacks, Murray himself.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Fowler followed a joint sentencing submission by the Crown and defence lawyers in handing down the sentence.

Bill Murray received two years' jail time Monday for his actions at the centre of a political scandal that saw taxpayer dollars illegally piped to a circle of corrupt politicians - and, through kickbacks, Murray himself.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Fowler followed a joint sentencing submission by the Crown and defence lawyers in handing down the sentence.

Murray's jail term will be followed by two years' probation.

He must also pay restitution of $177,000.

But the judge added his own twist to the sentencing recommendation.

As part of the probation order, Fowler ordered Murray to write a full letter of apology to the people of the province, to be published in a provincewide newspaper.

Fowler said the decision may be perceived as "trite," but is meant to "send a powerful message to the public."

Last month, Murray pleaded guilty to one count of fraud over $5,000 and three counts of accepting bribes.

For years, he held the purse strings at the House of Assembly, overseeing MHA constituency allowance spending.

But from 1998 until 2006, Murray was accepting kickbacks from MHAs, falsifying House financial reports and helping funnel as much as $2.3 million in fraudulent payments to three companies that sold baubles and trinkets.

Murray admitted in the agreed statement of facts that he accepted cash payments of up to $400,000 from the owner/operator of those companies, and tens of thousands in personal cheques from two MHAs - Randy Collins and Ed Byrne.

He also operated his own company, Unique Keepsakes, which did business with the very MHAs whose allowances he was responsible for overseeing. Murray billed Unique Keepsakes purchases to some MHAs' accounts without their knowledge.

Murray was battling a video-lottery terminal addiction that reached $500 a day while he was defrauding the government.

The two-year sentence is federal time.

The defence agreed to that in order to provide Murray with better access to counselling and treatment during his incarceration.

Before the judge sentenced him Monday, Murray said he is sorry for what he did.

"I accept my responsibility," Murray told the court. "I'm here, sorry to my family and the people I worked for ... I personally was out of control."

Neither Crown prosecutor Frances Knickle nor Murray's legal aid lawyer, Michelle Coady, had any comment for reporters.

As Murray was led away in handcuffs by sheriff's officers, his son shouted from the back of the courtroom, "Love you, Dad."

"See you later," Murray replied.

Monday's sentencing nearly completes the circle on the House of Assembly spending scandal.

Murray, 55, is the fifth person sent to jail in connection with the imbroglio.

Four former MHAs - Tory Ed Byrne, Liberals Wally Andersen and Jim Walsh, and New Democrat Randy Collins - were all previously locked up on corruption charges.

A sixth man - St. John's businessman John Hand - is also facing charges.

Hand is linked to the three trinket companies that received significant cash from the legislature.

He is due back in court in April.

The spending scandal sparked a judicial review and sweeping changes to the management of the House of Assembly.

The auditor general initially uncovered shady financial dealings at the House in 2006.

A subsequent police probe, called Operation Radius, led to a raft of criminal charges.

rantle@thetelegram.com