Thursday 26 June 2014

Was Frank Hall Dean Del Mastro’s patsy?

A pattern is emerging in the Dean Del Mastro trial.

According to evidence provided by Frank Hall, who ran the now defunct Ottawa polling firm Holinshed, for almost a year he was strung along by Dean Del Mastro, the Peterborough MP accused of overspending on his 2008 campaign, and then covering it up. 
Frank Hall on the stand

Hall backdated numerous invoices in the hopes of getting additional business from both Del Mastro’s Peterborough riding association and his parliamentary office.

However, once Del Mastro was in possession of a timeline that put him in the clear of any appearance of wrongdoing, and after Hall and his brother Colin raised red flags on suspicious Election Canada reporting and unpaid invoices, the relationship was abruptly terminated.

On August 28, 2008, Dean Del Mastro sent a scathing email to Frank Hall. In it, he asserted that he “has a job to do,” and that Hall’s invoices didn’t correspond to what had been agreed to in conversation. He further asserted that he was “sick of this entire saga,” though he concluded that that they could “discuss compensation for costs, and hopefully this can end amicably.”

The court has no record of phone conversations, and the defence has yet to cross-examine Mr. Hall, but, based on the four days of evidence, Mr. Del Mastro’s termination of the relationship seems bizarre and arbitrary given the extent and depth of his dealings with Holinshed.

Thursday’s testimony began with the crown continuing to lead Mr. Hall through the paper trail. After the federal election on October 14, 2008, Hall testified that Del Mastro led him to believe that Del Mastro’s riding association and parliamentary office would be interested in purchasing Holinshed’s GeoVote software.

According to Hall, the plan to purchase the software was delayed to January 1st , 2009, and then again to April 1st, 2009. The evidence supplied by the crown indicated numerous emails with invoices that were adjusted to address concerns expressed by Del Mastro.

Hall testified that from late 2008 and into 2009 he had extensive contact with Dean Del Mastro by phone, email, and in person. In one meeting in Del Mastro’s office on Parliament Hill Hall said that Del Mastro informed him that he was having issues with his Peterborough riding association, which Del Mastro claimed owed him money.

“I didn’t understand. What did this have to do with me?” Hall testified. “It was a bit odd, but it wouldn’t be the first time I was in an odd situation with a politician.”

It was around this time that another client of Hall’s informed him and his brother Colin, who also worked at Holinshed, that they had found something strange on Elections Canada’s website. The Elections Canada data showed the Holinshed expense registered by the Del Mastro campaign for the 2008 election to be only 1,500, or $1,575 including GST.

This amount corresponded to a request for work made by Del Mastro to Holinshed after the election, but was well below the $21,000 that Hall said Del Mastro had already paid him from the MP’s personal account.

“I sent an email to the official agent, I believe it was Mr. McCarthy,” said Hall, referring to Del Mastro’s co-accused, Richard McCarthy, who was the MP’s agent during the 2008 federal election.

Hall’s email was sent on May 12, 2009, and McCarthy responded on May 25, 2009, saying that he was no longer the official agent, and did not have the records. Hall then pursued the matter further with the new agent, who confirmed that the official declared amount was only $1,575.

 “I discussed it at work with [my brother] Colin in some detail,” said Hall. “I sat on it for a day or so. It was a minor cause of worry. It was also none of my business.”

However, Hall also testified that he wanted to make sure that there was no wrongdoing that he might have been implicated with. To try and sort things out, he sent Del Mastro an email. In it he said that he was ok altering dates on invoices – to a point.

“I cannot fulfil requests to alter invoicing if that means something improper,” he wrote. “As of now, that is my concern.”

Del Mastro responded immediately with a one line email: “Where is this coming from?”

They then followed up with a phone call.

“He asked me to delete the email,” Hall testified. “That was the first thing he asked.”

Hall did not delete the email. However, the relationship seemed to stay on reasonably good terms, with Hall still hoping for more business from Del Mastro.

“He was really nice,” said Hall. “He said he was trying to work out financial issues with his riding association. He assured me that nothing was wrong. All was well. And I took him at his word. I had no reason not to – he had paid us in full for the work we did for his election campaign.”

What followed was, according to Hall, more stringing along by Del Mastro, with requests for additional quotes and invoices either related to work with Holinshed’s custom software, GeoVote, or to address specific requests by Del Mastro.

This included a request to generate an invoice in June 2009, and to date it June 22, 2008. The invoice was broken down into: work data collection; telephone data collection; voter ID; and get out the vote. It included 700 hours of calling and totalled $19, 425.

“Why that amount?” asked the crown prosecutor, Tom Lemon.

“Because Dean Del Mastro asked me to put it here.”

At which point Dean Del Mastro, sitting directly behind his counsel, looked distinctly uncomfortable.

Hall then testified that it was agreed the contract for Holinshed’s GeoVote software would be split, with two invoices for $10, 804.50. One invoice would be for work done in the Peterborough riding association, which might be considered political, and the other would be for the parliamentary office in Ottawa, which could be paid for out of the House of Commons budget.

During this period Hall was repeatedly trying to nail down some sort of functional contract for his GeoVote software. If his testimony and the paper trail so far are to be believed, Del Mastro was constantly changing the rules.

Nonetheless, Hall appears to be doing whatever he can to please his potential client, including generating another invoice for $19, 425, presumably to replace the one dated for June 22, 2008, but this time to be dated December 10, 2008. It is now June, 2009, and the records would suggest that Hall was a man desperate to lock in some business.

“Why are you sending these invoices in?” asked Lemon.

“Because he [Dean Del Mastro] asked me to,” said Hall. “I hoped to finally set up the system that I had been chasing for a long time.”

Court documents show that a $10, 804.50 service agreement with the House of Commons was signed by Hall and Del Mastro on June 9, 2009. This was for one half of the GeoVote software. Hall was still trying to close on the other half that was to be used by Del Mastro’s Peterborough riding association.

Further complications arose as the House of Commons rules changed to stipulate that all invoices had to be dated within 30 days. Del Mastro then got a new treasurer. His executive assistant, Karen Freeley, suggested quarterly payments to cover GeoVote costs in the riding, and Del Mastro suggested the work be invoiced as research. Always, Hall responded with speed and courtesy.

Then on August 14, 2009, despite the fact that no money had been paid for the GeoVote software, Del Mastro sends Hall an email:

“Then we’re square.”

“Yes, sir,” replies Hall. “And I will get your system up and running as discussed.”

Two weeks later, Del Mastro rudely cuts the cord with Holinshed. He says it is because Colin Hall, presumably frustrated by the lack of payment, threatened legal action in an email.

After receiving Del Mastro’s email, Frank Hall responds with a long, eloquent , and detailed outline of the strange journey Del Mastro has taken him on – and his unsettling conclusion that he’s been played.

“In the last eight months, any reasonable person would conclude you had no intention of upholding your contract,” he wrote.  “I always complied without hesitation. I granted requests to change invoices so that you could avoid officially breaking your spending limits, as per the Elections Act.”

Del Mastro then responded on August 30, 2009, by saying that Hall’s GeoVote system had no value to him, that Colin had threatened to take him to court, and that “upon review I was always finding surprises and mistakes in invoices”.

He ends by asking Hall to send him yet another invoice to cover costs.

On August 31, 2009, Frank Hall emailed Dean Del Mastro –

“There are no mistakes in the invoices,” wrote Hall. “They result from specific requests made by you. Until today you never mentioned any mistakes. We have split invoices, dates, and amounts. Now you want to sever ties with Holinshed and, once again, change our invoice.”

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