News Canada

Investigator says Del Mastro hid overspending

Kennedy Gordon and Brendan Wedley, QMI Agency

PETERBOROUGH, Ont. - An Elections Canada investigator claimed in court documents that Tory MP Dean Del Mastro - accused of not reporting all his 2008 election campaign spending - knowingly tried to hide the true nature of the transaction at the heart of the controversy.

"I therefore believe that Dean Del Mastro, candidate, wilfully exceeded the maximum election expense limit of $92,566.79 as permitted by section 40 of the (Elections Canada Act)," Elections Canada investigator Thomas Ritchie swore under oath in an affidavit filed in Ontario court in Ottawa on March 29.

The Peterborough MP and parliamentary secretary to the prime minister has consistently denied any wrongdoing. However, he has backtracked on earlier statements he would produce documents to refute the allegations against him.

The claims, which were initially made in documents from a now-abandoned small-claims suit against Del Mastro, have resurfaced in Ritchie's affidavit, which was obtained by QMI Agency.

The affidavit alleges Del Mastro wrote a personal cheque worth $21,000 to Holinshed Research Group, which his bank cashed on Oct.14, 2008.

"The value of this cheque is the same amount as the value of the contract that (Holinshed owner) Frank Hall had alleged Holinshed had with the campaign, but was not reported in the Dean Del Mastro electoral campaign return," Ritchie said..

Ritchie also alleged Richard McCarthy, Del Mastro's official agent, wilfully exceeded the spending limit.

None of the allegations in the court documents have been proven in court.

"I believe that Dean Del Mastro knew that the correct value of the contract between the campaign and Holinshed was $21,000 and not $1,575," wrote Ritchie.

"Further, I believe that Dean Del Mastro, being aware that the $21,000 contract between the campaign and Holinshed was an election expense subject to the spending limits . took steps to hide the true nature of the transaction by paying the $21,000 election expense from his personal bank account."

Last week, Del Mastro told QMI Agency he would present documents to the public within a few days that would prove his innocence.

He's since backtracked, saying he's collected those records from the riding association and the constituency office, but won't make them public at this point.

"Until we hear from Elections Canada or understand what's going on . we're just going to hold back saying anything further," Del Mastro said Thursday.

Elections Canada hasn't been interested in meeting with Del Mastro, according to a letter Del Mastro's lawyer sent to the federal agency on Wednesday.

Elections Canada will only be interested in meeting with Del Mastro at some point in the future if he is prepared to give a "cautioned statement", Jeffrey Ayotte wrote.

"I want to express our profound disappointment that Elections Canada is not prepared to have any open discussion with Mr. Del Mastro or any of his representatives in this investigative process," the letter reads. "Mr. Del Mastro stands behind his returns filed with Elections Canada completely. All election fundraising and spending has been accurately reported in the 2008 return filed."

According to York University law professor Alan Young, "a cautioned statement is just a fancy way of referring to a voluntary statement."

"Calling something a cautioned statement is an attempt to ensure that the accused does not question the voluntariness of the statement when it is introduced at trial."

The allegations against Del Mastro stem from his campaign's use of Holinshed for voter-contact calls.

In a small-claims suit to recover about $21,500 for work it said it had done for Del Mastro outside of the campaign, the company noted the MP's financial statements to Elections Canada showed only $1,500 of work by the company. But Holinshed claims it did about $20,000 worth of work during the campaign.

The additional spending would have taken his campaign over the spending limit in the riding, but Del Mastro maintains the contract included work that was done outside of the campaign.

The court documents include a claim that the quote dated Sept. 14, 2008, for Holinshed services for data collection was prepared for "Dean Del Mastro, Peterborough Federal Election Campaign."

The amount of the quote, which requested live calls on election day and advance poll days, is $21,000, including GST.

The documents claim Holinshed received a copy of a signed contract from Del Mastro campaign manager John McNutt and started the work.

Holinshed also included a copy of a $21,000 cheque written to the company from Del Mastro's personal account that was dated Aug. 18, 2008, and a receipt for a repayment of $10,000 back to Del Mastro on Nov. 4, 2008.

The personal contribution limit for candidates is $2,100.

But Del Mastro has said it's not unusual for candidates to pay for expenses and be reimbursed.

Ritchie's affidavit contains other allegations from Holinshed's Frank Hall, including a claim that a Holinshed memo acknowledging overpayment on the Del Mastro campaign was not written by him or anyone at his company.

Hall also alleged that Del Mastro, at a coffee shop after the election and in the company of other MPs, publicly thanked Hall for his efforts in getting him re-elected.

The court dismissed the small-claims suit on June 8, 2011, after Holinshed stopped pursuing the case. There had been a series of settlement conferences before the case was dropped.

Del Mastro repeated that he wants to have an open conversation with Elections Canada.

"It's clear that there is a party that had a motivation to make a complaint about me," he said. "That party has already sought damages from me in court and received no such damages."

Contacted for comment on Friday, Del Mastro's lawyer said the MP won't be commenting further on the Elections Canada investigation.