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Elusive witness at Duffy trial testifies on strange Senate contracts

Sen. Mike Duffy, a former member of the Conservative caucus, makes his way to the courthouse as his trial resumes, Thursday Nov. 19, 2015 in Ottawa.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
November 19, 2015 - 9:00 PM

OTTAWA - Gerald Donohue wasn't a professional speechwriter or researcher, didn't have any particular public policy background and wasn't the employee or officer of any company.

But over the span of three years, the longtime friend of Sen. Mike Duffy took in roughly $65,000 in taxpayer money for a variety of contracts, directing the money through a firm owned by his wife and son.

He also signed several cheques on behalf of the firm to other individuals and companies that Duffy wanted paid for Senate work — an intern, a makeup artist, speechwriters.

Donohue's testimony Thursday marked the winding down of the Crown's fraud, breach of trust and bribery case against Duffy. The senator has pleaded not guilty on all 31 counts.

Prosecutors tried several times over the last seven months to call Donohue as a witness, but poor health continually postponed his testimony.

The Crown alleges that the $65,000 in contracts awarded to Donohue was used as a slush fund for Duffy to pay for services that wouldn't pass muster with the Senate.

By video link from his home in an Ottawa suburb, the witness answered prosecutor Mark Holmes' questions about his relationship with Duffy. The two met in the late 1980s at local Ottawa TV station CJOH — Donohue was a human resources manager, Duffy a host.

Over the years, the two men kept up a friendship of sorts. Donohue was a sounding board for Duffy, who would call to talk to him about a wide variety of issues.

"We talked for hours and hours, for 20 years, the volume of discussions didn't change. We would talk for 100 hours in a year...," Donohue said.

"He would call me up, and say, 'What about a pension plan? What about my wife's pension? What about leasing a car?' Whatever crossed his mind, he would call me and I would do my best to give him an answer."

After Duffy entered the Senate, Donohue said Duffy continued to pick his brain — this time for pay. He was asked to research the aging population, which he did on the Internet, or to come up with ideas for a speech on why Duffy was a Conservative.

Donohue conceded that he signed cheques to other Duffy service providers, even though he had no signing authority at the firm. He also revealed that those cheques were written off by the family companies, first called Maple Ridge Media and then Ottawa ICF.

Donohue said he got upset with the Senate administrators in 2012 when they refused to stop sending cheques to him personally, rather than to the firms.

Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne has emphasized at various points during the months of court proceedings that while the payment system was unorthodox, it wasn't criminal. The senator didn't receive any kickbacks and nothing was deliberately kept secret.

During an earlier cross-examination of Senate telecommunications manager James Cooke, Bayne pointed out that nobody in the Senate has ever been prosecuted for having an extra phone service paid for.

Duffy had arranged for Donohue to pay the cell bills of one of his staff members, after he exceed the number of phone plans the Senate allowed.

"You will agree with me that equipping office staff, someone who's as important as an executive assistant, to do her office work and do key work in the office is part of the senator doing parliamentary functions, right? It's not private use for the senator is it?"

"No," Cooke replied.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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