Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bring out the Stradivarius for Mr. Del Mastro!

Director of Public Prosecutions weighing charges against Del Mastro over campaign expenses

By Glen McGregor
Monday, July 22, 2013
Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro says he is unaware of his case being referred to federal prosecutors. (Photograph by: Peter Redman/The Canadian Press)

OTTAWA — Federal prosecutors are considering laying charges over expenses claimed by Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro’s campaign during the 2008 election.

After a lengthy investigation, the Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté referred the file to the office of Director of Public Prosecutions Brian Saunders earlier this summer.

Côté would refer the case to Saunders only if he believed an offence under the Elections Act had occurred.

Saunders must now decide whether there is enough evidence to support a prosecution and, if so, if it would be in the public interest to proceed.

Del Mastro has served as the prime minister’s parliamentary secretary since 2011 and, despite reports last year of two Elections Canada investigations into his 2008 campaign, continues to the hold the post.

It is unclear if Côté has recommended charging Del Mastro, or his official agent, Richard McCarthy, or both. Neither Saunders’ office nor Elections Canada comments on referrals until charges are laid.

According to court documents filed last year, an Elections Canada investigator said he believes the campaign illegally exceeded its spending limit by $17,000 with a payment to Holinshed Research, an Ottawa political consulting company.

The statement sworn by investigator Thomas Ritchie said the campaign reported paying Holinshed $1,575 for campaign work but actually paid the firm $21,000, using a cheque drawn on Del Mastro’s personal bank account.

The campaign had also filed a “false document” with Elections Canada to cover up the overspending, Ritchie claimed.

He alleged violations by both Del Mastro and McCarthy, and said the case had been under investigation since May 2011.

Del Mastro has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and, in the House of Commons last month, questioned the credibility of Holinshed co-owner Frank Hall. Hall later wrote to Speaker Andrew Scheer complaining that Del Mastro has used his parliamentary privilege to defame him.

By email, Del Mastro said Monday that he was unaware of any referral of the case to federal prosecutors.

“We haven’t heard anything, so once again all we have is your sources that are indicating anything.”

Del Mastro had claimed that his privileges as an MP were breached when the Ottawa Citizen and Postmedia News first reported on the Elections Canada investigation last June. He alleged that Elections Canada had improperly leaked court documents to the two news organizations.

McCarthy, reached at his Peterborough home, said he hasn’t heard from Elections Canada in months and said he believes the agency concluded he did nothing wrong after initially misinterpreting the campaign expense report.

“I’m considering it a dead issue,” McCarthy said. “I’m going on with my life.”

There is no indication when Saunders will decide on charges. His office took more than a year to decide to lay charges against four Conservative party officials for breaching election spending limits in the 2006 in-and-out case.

The party later pleaded guilty and paid the maximum fines when the charges against the four were dropped.

But Saunders’ office moved much faster after Côté referred the case against Michael Sona, taking only a few weeks before recommending he be charged over misleading election-day robocalls in Guelph.

Sona, who denies any wrongdoing, is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing on August 29.

Elections Canada is also investigating contributions to Del Mastro’s 2008 campaign made by people associated with his cousin’s Mississauga electrical company.

A former employee of Deltro Electric said owner David Del Mastro offered to reimburse staff who donated $1,000 to the campaign, saying those who agreed received $1,050 from the company and were able to claim the donations as tax deductions.

David Del Mastro has denied he reimbursed anyone for the donations.

A lawyer representing several of the donors has said his clients are willing speak to Elections Canada and describe the alleged scheme in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

In January, Elections Canada investigators, aided by an RCMP officer seconded to the agency, visited the homes of several donors in the Toronto area, seeking more information.


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