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Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Crown tightens evidence chain around Del Mastro

The trial of Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro and his official agent during the 2008 campaign, Richard McCarthy, continued on Wednesday. Former pollster Frank Hall was on the stand the entire day, with crown prosecutor Tom Lemon building an evidence trail littered with alleged backdated quotes, invoices, and cheques.

(For updates scroll to bottom of story.)

It's a lot of money
“In my experience, the rules for election spending have nothing to do with a date on an invoice,” testified Hall. “It is for when it is used”.

In this instance the ‘it’ being referenced by Hall represents the services and products offered by his now-defunct Ottawa-based polling firm, Holinshed.

“Something could be paid for way back and then used later,” said Hall from the witness stand. “That could then be an election expense.”

Lemon spent the day studiously building an argument to support the crown’s contention that Del Mastro overspent on his 2008 campaign, and then tried to cover it up.

Many times, as Hall was asked why an invoice was back-dated, he responded: “I was asked to by Dean Del Mastro.”

“They said they were having some troubles with their spending limits,” Hall said in reference to an email from Richard McKay on September 30, 2008, “and that they may not be able to fulfill all of their commitments to Holinshed.”

Other communication from Del Mastro’s campaign team, including from his manager John McNutt, left Hall “confused”.

The net result was that Hall emailed Del Mastro on October 2 telling him that all of his phone polling had been terminated. This was partly because, as was established in previous testimony, the Del Mastro campaign still owed Holinshed $11,000 out of its $21,000 contract.

After being notified, Del Mastro immediately emailed Hall back with his phone number, instructing Hall to “call me ASAP”. Hall then phoned Del Mastro.

“He was very concerned that the calling was halted,” says Hall. “He wanted it resumed as quickly as possible.”

The timing and payment for products and services from Holinshed is complicated by the fact that Del Mastro, who had been very pleased with Holinshed’s performance, was interested in purchasing software from the company called GeoVote, which is a customized database with an online interface for real-time mapping.

“He needed to work with me on an invoice,” Hall testified. “He preferred that it was outside of the writ period. I asked him when he wanted things dated for, which made sense to me at the time.”

Hall testified that he saw nothing wrong with this process, as his client would obviously want to distinguish what services and products were and were not election expenses.

What Hall then described over the rest of his testimony was a process in which Del Mastro was closely involved in instructing Hall on how and when to date invoices to work outside of the writ period of September 7 to October 14, 2008.

“Dean wanted the voter ID contract resumed as quickly as possible,” said Hall. “I then provided him with another quote on October 3.”

Then on October 8 Hall sent a reminder email to Del Mastro: “Hey Dean, please sign and fax back the contract ASAP.”

This was for a bundled package with GeoVote and voter ID services. Though GeoVote could be considered as something used for the period outside of the election period, voter ID could not, as it is a specific service used during campaigns to maximize the vote.

According to Hall, he then backdated the invoice to June 20, “based on the conversation” he had had with Del Mastro.

Part 1 of the invoice, for voter ID, which would have been considered a campaign expense, was for $22,896 after taxes.

Part 2 of the invoice, for the GeoVote software package, was $20, 580 inclusive of taxes. The total came to $43, 476.

Hall testified that since he had already been paid $10,000, the outstanding balance for both would then be $33,476. He also testified that he made a mistake when backdating the invoice he created on October 3, 2008, creating the invoice for June 22, 2008, instead of June 20, 2008, as had been agreed upon with Del Mastro.

“I then received payment in the form of a cheque from Dean Del Mastro,” Hall testified. “It was a personal cheque for $21,000. We received it, I believe, on the 10th of October.”

The cheque was backdated to August 18, 2008, and entered as an exhibit during the proceedings, as was evidence pertaining to the Purolator courier service and deposit.

The assumption being made by the prosecution is that this cheque essentially paid for the Voter ID work from Del Mastro’s personal funds, which would have put him well over his personal contribution limit of $2,100, and his total campaign limit of $92,566. The crown prosecutor, Mr. Lemon, then led Mr. Hall through questioning that tightened the noose around Del Mastro.

Hall confirmed that the only contract his company had was with the Del Mastro campaign. But Hall had already received a cheque for $10,000 on September 18 in relation to voter ID work during the writ period, and was waiting on another $11,000. Given that Hall had received $21,000 from Del Mastro, effectively covering off the entirety of the campaign cost, and assuming that the payment did not refer to the GeoVote software, what is the only logical conclusion?

“Mr. Del Mastro had overpaid,” said Hall. “I owed him $10,000. He told me he would give me specific instructions on how to pay the money back. Do I write a cheque back to Dean personally for $10,000? What do I do? I believe his instructions were to write it to his official agent, Richard McCarthy.”

During the balance of his testimony Hall indicated that Del Mastro was in active communication with him up to and during election day, and that he pressed Del Mastro for completion of the deal on the GeoVote software. At one point documents showing inconsistent totals for the two engagements was laid side by side in front of Hall, and he was asked to explain.

“Bad arithmetic is how I explain that,” Hall said.

The testimony from Hall that he was communicating with Del Mastro with regard to the GeoVote software is significant, as it supports his assertion that it was separated out on the previous invoice, and had not been paid for yet. The GeoVote software had an added advantage.

“He [Del Mastro] could pay for part of the system out of his parliamentary budget,” said Hall. “It would be completely legitimate to do so”

Why? Because, according to Hall, the GeoVote software had advanced security features and could be considered a tool for doing an MP’s job – as opposed to only helping drive an election campaign.

Then, according to Hall, after the election something very strange happened during a phone call between Him and Del Mastro on or around November 27, 2008.

“He [Del Mastro] had a small amount of money left over in his election budget,” said Hall. “He said he wanted some data work for $1,500. I said ‘sure’. He told me the money was part of the election budget and he wanted a quote dated within the election period. This was the amount for roughly $1,500...He wanted that part done fast.”

Hall said they also discussed GeoVote, but that Del Mastro wanted this other engagement done first. Hall said he was concerned about getting the invoice together, as it was a minority government and could fall, which would mean he might have difficulty getting paid.

Around December 12, Hall sent Del Mastro a quote by email for the $1,500 plus GST. He claims that Del Mastro had instructed him to date it for September 14, one week after the writ was dropped.

This invoice caused some confusion in the court. Hall claims that Holinshed invoices were generated off of a template, which was reused by having fields altered. As a result, Hall failed to add “data analysis” to the invoice, which made it look like it in fact was for an election, whereas he testified it was not.

“This is a data analysis project, but data analysis is not mentioned,” he testified to looks of incredulity from Del Mastro’s lead counsel, Jeffery Ayotte, and sniggers from Del Mastro himself.

“It looks like it’s for an election, but it’s not. There were no telephone calls to be made during the project. This was an analysis project.”

Given that this invoice, which came to $1,575 inclusive of GST, is the only reference to Holinshed in the financial report to Elections Canada provided by Del Mastro’s campaign, we can expect it to be rigorously dealt with during the cross-examination, which is expected to begin on Thursday.

Other matters presented late in the day on Wednesday may also come up during the cross-examination, such as an apparent lowering of the quote for the GeoVote software to $9,500 for mapping and $4,5000 for licensing. Hall testified that Del Mastro instructed him to back date this quote, also.

But what if Del Mastro’s team asserts that the $21,000 personal cheque from Del Mastro was for GeoVote, and not voter ID? And what happened to the $10,000 owed by Holinshed? If the court can be convinced that these large sums of money were moving around outside of the writ period, as the paper trail suggests, or that they were not for voter ID purposes, then the defence might still win the day.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

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