Liberal fundraiser, trusted Wynne adviser charged with bribery in Sudbury byelection scandal

Click to play video: 'Wynne says campaign chief will step down if charges laid in Sudbury byelection scandal' Wynne says campaign chief will step down if charges laid in Sudbury byelection scandal
WATCH ABOVE: Kathleen Wynne responded to reports that Patricia Sorbara, head of Wynne’s 2018 re-election campaign will be ‎charged by Ontario Provincial Police related to the Sudbury byelection scandal in 2015 – Nov 1, 2016

A top Liberal fundraiser and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne‘s former chief of staff are facing bribery charges under the province’s Elections Act in what police call an “unprecedented investigation” into the 2015 Sudbury byelection scandal.

Patricia Sorbara, head of Wynne’s 2018 re-election campaign, and Sudbury funeral director Gerry Lougheed have been ‎charged by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).

Sorbara, 60, of Toronto, has been charged with two counts of bribery under Ontario’s Election Act, while Lougheed faces one count of the same charge. Both are scheduled to appear in a Sudbury court on Nov. 21.

READ MORE: Crown drops charges against Gerry Lougheed in Sudbury byelection scandal

“This has been a complex and unprecedented investigation for the OPP Anti-Rackets Branch, which has culminated in bribery charges under the Election Act of Ontario,” OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes said in a release Tuesday.

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The OPP said it would not comment further “in order to protect the integrity of the investigation and the ongoing court processes.”

“I continue to believe, with my whole heart, as I have from the beginning, that any charge against me will not succeed,” Sorbara wrote in a letter to party president Vince Borg.

Lawyers for Sorbara said in an emailed statement she was “cleared of criminal wrongdoing in this matter long ago and has cooperated fully with this investigation for almost two years.”

“These are regulatory‎ offences and stem from legislation that, it appears, is being applied in an unprecedented and extraordinary way,” lawyers William Trudell and Erin Dann said, adding Sorbara takes the allegations “seriously.”

“She not only looks forward to, but is indeed eager, to defend these charges in court, to vigorously scrutinize what has happened here and to clear her name and reputation once and for all.”

READ MORE: Police question Premier Wynne about Liberals’ actions in Sudbury byelection

The bribery scandal stems from the 2015 byelection in Sudbury where would-be Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier was allegedly offered a job or a government appointment to step aside for Wynne’s preferred candidate and current Minister of Energy Glenn Thibeault.

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A conviction under the bribery section of the Election Act carries a penalty of up to $5,000. If a judge finds it was broken “knowingly,” the penalty is a fine of up to $25,000 and/or up to two years less a day in jail.

Lougheed had been previously charged with one count of counselling an offence not committed and one count of unlawfully influencing or negotiating appointments, but those were stayed by the Crown in April.

WATCH: Two top Liberals charged with bribery under Ontario Elections Act 

Click to play video: 'Two top Liberals charged with bribery under Ontario Elections Act' Two top Liberals charged with bribery under Ontario Elections Act
Two top Liberals charged with bribery under Ontario Elections Act – Nov 1, 2016

Sorbara recently took a leave of absence as the premier’s deputy chief of staff to become party CEO and 2018 campaign director.

Ontario Liberal Party President Vince Borg said in an emailed statement Tuesday Sorbara had decided to resigned from those roles.

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“I would like to sincerely thank Patricia for her outstanding commitment and tire-less efforts,” Borg said. “It is my hope, and that of the entire Executive Council, that she will be able to return to help us again soon.”

READ MORE: Liberal fundraiser charged in Sudbury byelection scandal may go to trial in July

The announcement comes after Wynne told reporters Tuesday Sorbara would step aside if she was charged under the Elections Act.

“We are now at a point where we understand that charges will be laid and I said in 2015 if charges were laid then Pat would step aside,” Wynne said.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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