April 13, 2015 - 11:45 AM
OTTAWA - Mike Duffy had the Senate pay to frame pictures of his family members and for photos to be sent to former American first lady Barbara Bush, an Ottawa courtroom heard Monday in the suspended senator's fraud and bribery trial.
The Crown also suggested Duffy carefully juggled and squeezed his upper chamber office budget in order to pay the maximum amount possible to a friend doing contract work.
Crown prosecutor Jason Neubauer went page by page through a series of contracts paid out to Maple Ridge Media, a firm owned by Gerald Donohue, a former colleague of Duffy's from broadcasting days.
The former Conservative senator faces 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. Among them are counts related to $65,000 in contracts awarded to Donohue's companies over the years, as well as other money that filtered out to other service providers.
Neubauer didn't get into detail, but asked Senate human resources officer Sonia Makhlouf whether she would approve the photographic work — such as an 8x10 mounted photograph, with the notation Barbara Bush. Duffy's diaries, filed in court last week, mentioned sending photos to Bush in 2010.
"I will not proceed with it and probably I will bring it to a higher level," Makhlouf said.
In 2009-2010, Duffy repeatedly adjusted the amount that he would pay to Donohue for "consulting and editorial services" after hearing how much was left in the budget. Ultimately, Donohue was paid an extra $14,000 at the very end of the fiscal year.
"I have been waiting for them to assist me with a project on the aging Canadian population, but had held off giving them the assignment because under the impression that I was out of funds for the fiscal year," Duffy wrote to the Senate human resources department.
"As it turns out, we have a small surplus that can be used."
The same thing happened the following year, in 2010-11. Duffy at first asked for Donohue to be back-paid for work beginning at the beginning of the fiscal year, but then settled for paying Donohue $13,560 at the end of 2010 after getting an accounting of what was left in his office budget.
Makhlouf also testified that while she reviewed the amount of contracts and their timing, she did not investigate a contractor's qualifications or check if the work had been completed.
"I don't validate this information," she said. "It's at the discretion of the senator."
Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne said during his opening statement last week that if the senator is guilty of anything, it is administrative errors, and not criminal behaviour.
The Crown has also alleged that while Duffy paid Donohue's $65,000, that amount was kept as a larger reserve fund that in turn paid other service providers — without the scrutiny of Senate officials.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015