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Trial begins in St. John's for former Eastern Health employee

Debbie McGrath (right) speaks with her lawyer, Rosellen Sullivan, during a break in her trial in provincial court in St. John's Monday.
Debbie McGrath (right) speaks with her lawyer, Rosellen Sullivan, during a break in her trial in provincial court in St. John's Monday. - Tara Bradbury

Debbie McGrath charged with fraud, theft, forgery

The trial of a former Eastern Health employee accused of defrauding the health authority of thousands of dollars got underway in St. John's Monday.

Debbie McGrath, 51, was an employee of the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Health Laboratory at the Miller Centre in St. John's between Jan. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2009, when the alleged incidents of fraud are said to have taken place.

The specific details of the allegations have not yet come out in court, but Crown prosecutor Jude Hall spent much of the day Monday entering documents as evidence through the testimony of Brenda Rose, an Eastern Health accountant.

The majority of the documents were requests for payment of varying amounts to McGrath for "salary for research work," signed by her along with a superior, in varying amounts from $800 to $2,000.

Among other documents, Hall also presented a travel claim for a trip to Hawaii in 2009.

Rose told the court the cheques were paid through the accounts payable department and not payroll, and as a result were not recorded on certain financial reports.

Hall noted one cheque request - which is not part of the allegations before the court - had "VOID - do not pay" written on it. It was a request for payment to a company called Avalon Payroll Employment Services.

Rose said she had realized there were a number of salary-related cheque requests coming into the payroll department from employees and she had asked staff to start flagging them for her to take a look at.

"It was (a payment request) to Debbie, signed by Debbie. I picked up the phone and told her we can't do this, (a superior) needs to sign off on it. She asked if she could use her company name," Rose said. "I told her it wasn't right. This came in and sat in the file all these years."

McGrath, who sat in the dock and passed notes on yellow sticky pad paper to her lawyers throughout Monday's proceedings, is facing nine charges: three counts of fraud over $5,000, three counts of theft over $5,000, falsifying a document or book, making false documents with intent to use as genuine and uttering a forged document. Her trial has been scheduled to take two weeks.

McGrath was originally charged with offences said to have happened between Jan. 1, 2006 and Dec. 31, 2012, but Hall has since narrowed the alleged offence dates.

Until that happened, defence lawyer Rosellen Sullivan had been intending to argue a number of applications, and had asked for communication documents between her client and specific Eastern Health employees. She said Monday the smaller alleged offence period makes many of those documents irrelevant.

Sullivan told the court she is concerned by new disclosure she had received, which she said contained documents she had long been attempting to obtain.

Hall said he, too, had just received the same information, which had been given to police by one of McGrath's former superiors at Eastern Health when he recently arrived back in St. John's to testify.

McGrath began a career in real estate in 2010, while she was still working with the health authority, becoming owner of a Bay Roberts real estate firm. She doesn’t appear to have any current real estate listings and is no longer affiliated with the firm.

When she was charged a year ago, the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Realtors issued a written statement to the media, saying it wasn’t taking McGrath’s charges lightly, but stressing the charges had yet to be proven in court.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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