WATCH: Mike Duffy was once the darling of the Conservative Party, but now he’s the biggest thorn in the prime minister’s side. The case is expected to shine a light on what went on behind closed doors on Parliament Hill. Jacques Bourbeau reports.
OTTAWA – Mike Duffy billed taxpayers for personal trips to see his daughter’s play in British Columbia, for travel to adopt a puppy, and $10,000 on a personal trainer, the Crown prosecutor alleged in his opening arguments Tuesday.
Prosecutor Mark Holmes laid the groundwork for the Crown’s case against Duffy, insisting he charged the public tens of thousands for trips and expenses that had nothing to do with his work as a senator.
For much of the morning, Holmes went into detail about the 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and one count of bribery associated with a $90,000 payment from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright.
The former Conservative senator was also an equal partner, “if not the instigator,” of the deal to have Wright pay back the expenses, Holmes said.
The RCMP alleges the former TV journalist defrauded taxpayers by claiming housing and living expenses he wasn’t entitled to, including travel to campaign for the Conservatives, and awarding a $65,000 contract to a friend who didn’t do any work.
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After the charges were read in court, Duffy looked at Judge Charles Vaillancourt and said, “I am not guilty, your honour.”
Duffy stared straight ahead during a majority of the morning, at times putting on his glasses and opening his computer. His wife, Heather, who is also his nurse, sat behind him.
WATCH: Mike Duffy and his lawyer arrive to a throng of media at Ottawa courthouse.
Duffy’s lawyer will counter the Crown’s allegations in his opening arguments on Tuesday afternoon. In a brief statement in court, he argued “this was perfectly appropriate Parliamentary business as defined by Senate rules.”
Holmes alleges Duffy billed the Senate about $2,000 a month in living expenses he wasn’t entitled to because he lived in Kanata, Ont., and not Prince Edward Island – the province he was appointed to represent.
“Senator Duffy is probably ineligible…to sit as a senator in Prince Edward Island,” Holmes told the court.
He went into detail about some of the charges Duffy is facing, including allegations he funnelled Senate money through a friend to pay for a makeup artist, a personal trainer and to pay a volunteer in his office.
Holmes said Duffy paid his friend Gerald Donohue $65,000 and then had Donohue pay other people in order to avoid the financial scrutiny of the Senate.
One of them was Mike Croskery, a personal trainer whom Duffy allegedly paid $10,000 over three years for fitness and other matters.
“Duffy opted out of financial oversight,” Holmes said.
Holmes also outlined trips Duffy took and then billed as Senate business – at times allegedly signing his expense claim sheets before they were filled out.
Shopping trips and funerals
The Crown said Duffy billed the Senate for $8,000 in 2009 to travel to a fair in Saanich, B.C. But he never went, Holmes said, and instead attended the opening night of his daughter’s play.
Holmes also said Duffy went to Peterborough in July 2010 and met with former MP Dean Del Mastro, attended a dog show, and made arrangements to “acquire a puppy,” then portrayed it as Senate business.
“It’s in effect a shopping trip,” he said.
He alleges Duffy also visited B.C. in December 2010 under the premise of attending a Christmas dinner with members of the Conservative party – but ended up witnessing the birth of his grandchild.
Holmes said Duffy went to Conservative MP Andrew Saxton’s riding in B.C. and had lunch with him at a yacht club. But his diary also revealed he got his hair cut, went shopping and had breakfast “with the kids.”
“The fundamental purpose of this was a family vacation,” Holmes said.
Duffy billed the Senate $4,400 for the trip, Holmes said.
He also billed taxpayers for trips to funerals.
“The decision to bill this to the Senate is criminal,” Holmes said.
“He has an obligation to exercise some restraint.”
See Duffy trial exhibits below: