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Liberal senator Lavigne faces fraud charge Add to ...

The RCMP laid charges of fraud, breach of trust and obstruction of justice yesterday against Senator Raymond Lavigne, a Chrétien-era patronage appointee who is suspended from the Liberal caucus but continues to receive his salary.

In a statement, the RCMP alleged that Mr. Lavigne misappropriated Senate funds and instructed one of his employees "to carry out tasks unrelated to Senate duties."

"The charges were in connection with Lavigne's alleged use of Senate resources for personal gain," the statement said.

Mr. Lavigne made headlines last year after a Senate committee alleged that he misused nearly $24,000 in Senate funds and sent a staff member to cut down trees with a chainsaw at his Quebec cottage in the Gatineau Hills.

The Senate passed its report into Mr. Lavigne's activities on to the RCMP, which laid the charges yesterday.

A spokeswoman for the Mounties said the charges carry maximum penalties of 14 years in jail.

The obstruction of justice charge stems from Mr. Lavigne's conduct when the Senate started investigating his activities in 2006.

"It is alleged that he asked his employees to make false statements before and after the Senate started its investigation," RCMP Sergeant Monique Beauchamp said.

Mr. Lavigne has recently been on medical leave, but senators asked to hire a doctor to check whether he actually underwent hemorrhoid surgery.

Mr. Lavigne condemned his peers for questioning his right to sick pay.

"Do you think this is a reasonable way to treat a senator. Next time it could be you," Mr. Lavigne said in a letter to senators.

As a result of yesterday's criminal charges, Mr. Lavigne is now on a paid leave of absence from the Senate.

A Liberal spokesman said Mr. Lavigne, who was removed from the Liberal caucus last year, "will remain suspended until the conclusion of the judicial process."

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien named Mr. Lavigne to the Senate in 2002 to make way for former Quebec provincial minister Liza Frulla to enter the House of Commons.

"An energetic and dedicated MP, he has been an effective and persuasive voice for his constituents within caucus and in public," said the press release announcing Mr. Lavigne's appointment five years ago.

Mr. Lavigne, 62, is a former furniture salesman who owned two stores on Montreal Island.

He was first elected to the House in 1993.

According to government sources, the special Senate subcommittee that investigated Mr. Lavigne also alleged last year that he hired a driver on his office budget for purposes of travel between Ottawa and various locations, and then submitted separate travel expenses that appeared to violate Senate regulations.

Mr. Lavigne has repaid the Senate more than $23,000, but he has asked the Senate to pick up the $90,000 legal bill related to his legal ordeal.

He is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 18.

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