National News

Former Tory MP on trial for election charges

By Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press

PETERBOROUGH, Ont. - A member of Parliament, whose job it once was to beat down allegations of Conservative voter fraud, used backdated invoices from a data-research firm to help cover up campaign overspending for the 2008 election, a Crown lawyer told the trial of Dean Del Mastro.

Del Mastro paid for the firm's services from a personal account, which meant he exceeded a limit on personal contributions, but tried to make it appear the company had only charged a fraction of the cost during the campaign, Crown prosecutor Tom Lemon alleged Monday, the first day of the trial in Peterborough, Ont.

Del Mastro has pleaded not guilty to charges of overspending during the 2008 campaign, failing to report a personal contribution of $21,000 to his own campaign and knowingly submitting a falsified document.

He said Monday he was pleased his trial was underway.

"It's been a long time coming," he said outside court. "I've been waiting since June of 2012 to put this all to bed. I'm very confident what the outcome will be and we look forward to getting to the other side of this."

Del Mastro added that nothing happened in court on Monday that he hadn't expected to hear.

Richard McCarthy, Del Mastro's official agent for the 2008 campaign, is being tried at the same time on three charges, including "incurring election expenses in an amount more than the election expenses limit." He has also pleaded not guilty.

At the heart of the case are Del Mastro's dealings with Ottawa-based data-consulting company Holinshed Research, which made voter identification and get-out-the-vote telephone calls for Del Mastro during the campaign.

Lemon alleged Del Mastro's campaign initially paid Holinshed a $10,000 cheque and gave the company a post-dated cheque for September 2008 that was worth $11,000 — for a total of $21,000.

"As the campaign progressed, Mr. Del Mastro and Mr. McCarthy realized the campaign was in danger of exceeding its expense limit," Lemon said, adding that McCarthy then cancelled the post-dated cheque.

Del Mastro, Lemon alleged, then paid Holinshed $21,000 for its services using a personal cheque from an account he shared with his wife. The amount would have put him over the maximum $2,100 candidates can contribute to their own campaigns.

The personal cheque was dated August 2008, before the election, but Del Mastro's bank records show that he only had the $21,000 in October, Lemon noted.

After Holinshed president Frank Hall received Del Mastro's cheque in October, he then wrote out a $10,000 cheque from Holinshed to McCarthy, to reimburse him for what was by then an overpayment for services, Lemon said.

Hall and Del Mastro continued to correspond between October and December 2008, with Del Mastro promising Holinshed further business from his constituency office and the Peterborough Conservative Electoral District Association, Lemon said.

In November 2008, Del Mastro asked Hall to provide a quote and invoice for analysis on get-out-the-vote data collected during the election campaign and asked him to date the invoice for September 2008, Lemon alleged.

Del Mastro signed and dated the documents, which billed for $1,575 in services, for September 2008 as well,even though he received them by December 2008, said Lemon.

At the same time, Hall had also sent Del Mastro a Holinshed quote for services to the Peterborough Conservative EDA for $14,175 dated for June 2008 at Del Mastro's request, and a quote for services for Del Mastro's constituency office for $7,434 dated for November 2008, Lemon said.

RCMP had found both documents were actually created in November 2008, he added.

"The last two quotes closely mirrored the $21,000 Holinshed fee for the campaign," Lemon told the court.

When Del Mastro's campaign eventually filed its expenses with Elections Canada in February 2009, only a Holinshed invoice for $1,575 was reported, said Lemon.

"The $21,000 Holinshed expense was not reported as either an expense or contribution. Doing so would have put the campaign substantially over its expense limit," he said.

"Thus the Holinshed invoice for $1,575 comfortably permitted the campaign to be below its expense limit."

Hall was called as the trial's first witness on Monday afternoon but his testimony was delayed by wrangling between the Crown and defence over whether certain electronic evidence was permissible.

If found guilty, Del Mastro and McCarthy could each face fines of $1,000 and a year behind bars.

A conviction would not stop Del Mastro from running from office again.

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