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Friday, 27 June 2014

“Now you’re trying to trick me”: Del Mastro trial continues with testy cross-examination

The defence got its first shot at the Crown’s star witness during the Dean Del Mastro trial on Friday, and if today’s proceedings are indicative of what’s to come, we can expect some fireworks when the trial resumes on Wednesday next week.
 
Jeff Ayotte and Dean Del Mastro
Del Mastro, the federal Member of Parliament for Peterborough, is on trial along with the official agent for his 2008 campaign, Richard McCarthy. Both men are charged with overspending during the election, and then covering it up.

In the morning the Crown concluded its examination of Frank Hall, the pollster whose firm, Holinshed, was hired by Del Mastro to help with his 2008 re-election bid. Crown Prosecutor Tom Lemon concluded by thanking his star witness, and saying that “I have never questioned a witness for this long.”

When Jeff Ayotte, the attorney for Del Mastro, got behind the lectern to question Mr. Hall, his tone was at first accommodating, but the interaction between the two quickly deteriorated.

Ayotte asked numerous questions regarding Hall’s communication with Elections Canada officials, how he came to agree to his prepared “Statement of Frank Hall”, dated March 7, 2013, and even his interaction with his lawyer.

Ayotte asked Hall if he had reviewed his statement before agreeing to the final version –

“I reviewed it with a lot of people,” said Hall.

“You reviewed it with your lawyer?”

“Any discussions I had with my lawyer were confidential.”

Ayotte tried a work-around, asking Hall if he had informed Elections Canada that he had sought input form his lawyer, a line of questioning that Hall also stonewalled.

Finally, Justice Cameron intervened to inform Hall that confirmation of communication with a lawyer is not the same as revealing the content of that communication. Hall then confirmed that he had sought legal advice.

From there Ayotte went after Hall’s relationship with Elections Canada, and the fact that Hall was reluctant to let the RCMP take an “image” of his computer to their people for a forensic search. In the end the RCMP obtained a Production Order for computer access limited to the investigation.

Ayotte also drove hard to establish inconsistent invoicing practices at Holinshed and Hall’s inability precisely to break down costs and pricing related to specific jobs. Ayotte wanted a detailed understanding of how contracts were built, but Hall remained vague, implying that his focus on customer service meant it was hard, even counter-productive, to be too specific with contracts and invoicing.

“It is important for me to do what the client tells me to do in the hopes of getting repeat business,” he said.

“Keeping the customer happy is good for business?” said Ayotte.

“Not always,” said Hall, looking directly over Ayotte’s shoulder at Del Mastro.

Ayotte repeatedly assured Hall that he wanted him to feel comfortable, and that he only wanted a truthful answer to his questions. However, from the get-go Hall appeared to be extremely suspicious of Ayotte’s line of questioning.
 
Frank Hall 
At one point Ayotte asked Hall if anyone other than himself had access to his computer.

“Lots of people,” said Hall. “Probably [my brother] Colin...”

“Probably? You just said...”

Now you’re trying to trick me.”

Ayotte then wanted to know why he identified only a man named Tom Rittwage, a colourful politician in Brighton, as the person who told him about seeing Del Mastro’s claim on the Elections Canada website.

Hall previously testified that “lots of people” told him of the claim for $1, 500 plus GST for Holinshed. That testimony would suggest that people who had used Holinshed’s services , and who knew that Holinshed had done a significant amount of work for Del Mastro, were hearing that Del Mastro only paid 1,500 – the implication being that Del Mastro got a great deal, or they were ripped off.  

Or that someone committed electoral fraud.

As the afternoon progressed, Ayotte repeatedly tried to put words in Hall’s mouth with regard to his communication with Elections Canada officials, only to have it objected to by Crown Prosecutor Tom Lemon.

Ayotte finally deferred, reminding the court that Tom Rittwage is under subpoena.

From there the cross-examination went to the purpose of the services and products provided by Holinshed, and the presentation of a “false document” – a handwritten note on Holinshed letterhead, with the blank paper possibly used as a folded sheath when Hall mailed back $10,000 owed to Del Mastro.

The returned $10,000 is not insignificant. The amount had come up in previous testimony, and the money’s return was confirmed during examination in the morning. This helped establish Hall’s credibility and honesty, given that the paper trail supports – and Hall had previously testified – that Del Mastro had overpaid by $10,000 and that the money had to be repaid.

The defence’s tenacious questioning with regard to how Holinshed’s services were used, paid for, and accounted for, also supported La politica’s assumption that the defence will try to establish that, in fact, Holinshed only did $1,500 worth of work for Del Mastro during the election.
 
Breaking for the weekend
At one point during the proceedings Ayotte let drop, almost as an afterthought, that Del Mastro will be testifying.

However, when asked after the day’s proceedings, Ayotte told La politica that that decision has not been made, and that it is never arrived at until all of the Crown’s evidence is in. So, we likely won’t know that until near the end.

Del Mastro, speaking to La politica during a recess, said that he wasn’t that familiar with court processes, never having been in this position before, but that he was surprised there was so much “hurry up and wait”. Well, he’d better get used to it.

When leaving court La politica wished Hall well. Throughout the week he has appeared, understandably, to be somewhat harried and stressed. He said he was looking forward to the long weekend, and spending time with his children.

He’d better rest up, because he is going to be thrown back into the thick of it on Wednesday morning, when the cross-examination resumes. For his part Ayotte appears to be enjoying himself. Hall, not so much. 

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

A reverse timeline of the Dean Del Mastro trial:

June 23: Defence and crown battle over evidence admissibility on first day of Del Mastro trial

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