An independent politician in the Nova Scotia legislature pleaded guilty Monday to fraud and breach of trust, but said outside court he would like to keep his job as a lawmaker.
Trevor Zinck entered the pleas on the fifth day of his trial at Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax, becoming the last of four politicians to plead guilty to offences stemming from the province’s spending scandal that erupted two years ago.
Prosecutors said a charge of theft over $5,000 was stayed.
Mr. Zinck said outside court he admits he made errors with his expenses, but wants to remain a member of the legislature for Dartmouth North.
“I would like to continue on,” he said. “There’s no question I made some mistakes, but it doesn’t take away from all the good I was able to do.”
Mr. Zinck said he doesn’t believe he has to quit, but he is nonetheless holding talks with the Speaker’s Office and realizes the legislature could expel him. “Other politicians have made mistakes. They were afforded opportunity to pay back and to move on. Unfortunately, I was thrown into a forensic audit,” he said outside court.
During the trial, prosecution witnesses testified that organizations that were supposed to receive donations through Mr. Zinck’s office never received their cheques. Last week, Mr. Zinck confirmed in court he was given more than $10,000 from the Speaker’s Office to cover constituency expenses in 2008 and 2009, even though he didn’t pay those owed money, except for a partial amount to one group.
Crown attorneys said outside court on Monday that the total has dropped to about $9,000 because the Crown is now accepting Mr. Zinck’s explanations in two instances.
About half the money was supposed to go to the Boys and Girls Club of Dartmouth. Other duplicate cheques — used as receipts in Mr. Zinck’s expense claims — were made out to the Dartmouth District 9 Citizens Association, Lake City Woodworkers and a Dartmouth dad looking for a hockey sponsorship for his son.
The father, James Moore, testified that his son couldn’t play in a spring hockey league because Mr. Zinck failed to come through on a promise to provide an $860 sponsorship.
In court, Crown prosecutor Mark Heerema showed Mr. Moore a duplicate cheque for $860 that Mr. Zinck had made out to Mr. Moore. The document was attached to a March, 2008, expense claim filed by Mr. Zinck and approved for reimbursement by the Speaker’s Office. Mr. Moore said he had never seen the cheque before and he confirmed that Mr. Zinck gave him no money in 2008.
As well, bank records presented as evidence during the trial showed a series of late-night withdrawals made from Mr. Zinck’s personal and constituency accounts — all of them made in 2008 from automated bank machines inside Casino Nova Scotia in Halifax.
Outside court, Mr. Zinck said he will wait until a sentencing hearing on Aug. 7 to provide more complete explanations for what happened to the funds.
However, Mr. Zinck — who was first elected as an NDP member in 2006 and re-elected in 2009 — said he was facing some financial difficulties during the time of the offences between June, 2007, and July, 2009.
“Unfortunately, due to a number of issues and overextending myself, I found myself ... in a situation that led to this point. For that I’m very remorseful,” he said.
He said he acknowledges he will forfeit his pension as a result of recent amendments passed by the legislature.
He said he expects to receive a reimbursement of his pension contributions of between $55,000 and $65,000 and will use those funds to repay any money he’s ordered to give back as a result of the court proceedings.
“If I owe somebody money, I will pay it back,” he said
Crown prosecutor Andrew Macdonald said outside court that he is likely to seek jail time for Mr. Zinck because he involved non-profit and charitable groups in his fraud.
“This is a matter where he misappropriated funds that were earmarked for ... very worthy charitable organizations and individuals,” he said.
Defence lawyer Lyle Howe said he will argue against a jail sentence, adding Mr. Zinck’s conduct wasn’t serious enough to warrant incarceration.
Mr. Zinck was one of four politicians charged in February, 2011, following an investigation by the province’s auditor-general into constituency allowance spending.
The former NDP caucus member is the only one who now sits in the legislature.
Richard Hurlburt, a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, pleaded guilty in April, 2012, to fraud and breach of trust for taking $25,321 between December, 2006, and December, 2008. He was sentenced to a year of house arrest.
David Wilson, a former chairman of the Liberal caucus, pleaded guilty to fraud, uttering forged documents and breach of trust in September, 2011, in crimes that spread over five years. He was sentenced to nine months in jail and was released from custody after four months.
Russell MacKinnon, a former Liberal, pleaded guilty on April 12 to breach of trust, while one count of fraud and eight counts of uttering forged documents were withdrawn.
Like Mr. Zinck, Mr. MacKinnon changed his plea while his trial was under way. He was sentenced to four months of house arrest and four months of curfew.