The RCMP used data from cellphone towers to probe allegations that a former NDP MP and her brother defrauded taxpayers by submitting fake travel claims, according to documents filed in court.
Wheel-chair bound after a horse-riding accident in 1993, Manon Perreault became the NDP's critic for disability issues after her 2011 election in the riding of Montcalm, northeast of Montreal. She hired her brother Marc Perreault to accompany her at a cost of $55,000 a year. MPs aren't normally allowed to hire family members in their offices, but the House of Commons gave her a specific exemption given her disability.
However, a former NDP staffer has raised questions with the RCMP about thousands of dollars in reimbursements that were obtained by Manon and Marc Perreault since 2012.
According to Sylvie Daigle, Manon and Marc Perreault were frequently reimbursed by the House of Commons for trips that were not taken. Ms. Daigle also told RCMP investigator Pierre Breton that Ms. Perreault occasionally filled out her own claims "to ensure that no one saw them. It was nebulous."
The RCMP worked to corroborate the allegations by using data from cellphone towers and credit-card statements, comparing their findings with Ms. Perreault's travel claims. The RCMP then raided the Ottawa and riding offices of Ms. Perreault last September in a bid to obtain more detailed records from the MP, including her electronic agenda and all of her travel claims.
Now sitting as an independent, Ms. Perreault acknowledged there were "mistakes" in some of her expense claims, but she denied any fraud. She said all travel that was claimed did occur, albeit potentially on other dates. She noted that the RCMP did not seize her paper agendas, which contains additional information on her travels.
"I didn't do anything in bad faith or with ill intent," she said in an interview. "If they find any errors, it will only be related to the dates of the trips."
The RCMP, which is investigating allegations of fraud and breach of trust, has not laid any charges against Ms. Perreault and none of the allegations in the search warrant have been proven in court. The search warrant provides a full breakdown of four expense claims worth $1,200 that were filed in 2012, but investigators will now analyze seven folders containing Ms. Perreault's complete travel claims from 2011 to 2014.
A search warrant that was filed in Ottawa in September, and just made public, contains a number of alleged cases of financial irregularities. For example, Ms. Perreault obtained $658.44 in travel and per-diem claims in April, 2012, for a return trip to "check emails + phone messages (etc)" in Ottawa. However, the RCMP disputed in the search warrant that the trip took place, citing data from cellphone towers to suggest that Ms. Perreault remained in her riding.
The following month, while Ms. Perreault was in Ottawa, she obtained $273.52 in travel claims for a return trip to attend a meeting in her riding. However, cell phone records suggest that she spent the entire day in Ottawa and Gatineau, according to the RCMP.
The RCMP also looked at claims that were made in March, 2012, while Ms. Perreault attended the NDP leadership convention in Toronto with Ms. Daigle. Ms. Perreault claimed $44.88 in mileage for a trip in her riding, at the same time as cellphone and credit-card records suggested that she was in Toronto.
Ms. Daigle also told the RCMP that she sometimes accompanied Ms. Perreault to Ottawa by herself. Still, Marc Perreault obtained a per diem of $40 for a period of time in which his cell phone records suggested that he was in Laval, Que.
"Manon Perreault claimed travel expenses for her brother Marc Perreault, even though he was not accompanying Manon Perreault and was mostly spending time near his home," Mr. Breton alleged in the search warrant.
According to the RCMP, Mr. Perreault obtained a total of $5,840 in per-diems from the House of Commons between 2012 and 2014.
Ms. Daigle told the RCMP that in her experience, Mr. Perreault accompanied Ms. Perreault "between 30 and 50 per cent of the time."
However, Ms. Perreault told The Globe and Mail that her brother accompanied her nearly all the time, except for a few occasions.
Ms. Perreault was excluded from the NDP caucus last June after she was charged with mischief over allegations that she wrongly accused another former aide, Danielle Bédard, of stealing office equipment.
Ms. Perreault blamed her current legal issues on two former employees, adding that "the raids [conducted in her offices] will probably cost much more than the mistakes that were made in my office."
The RCMP have laid charges against three current and former senators over their expenses claims, but Ms. Perreault is the only MP who is known to face a police investigation for the use of his or her parliamentary resources.