SYDNEY, N.S. – A former Nova Scotia politician who defrauded the public purse of nearly $61,000 to feed a gambling addiction was sentenced Thursday to nine months in jail and ordered to repay the money.
Dave Wilson, who pleaded guilty last September to fraud, breach of trust and uttering forged documents, said he felt deep shame and remorse for his actions.
“I lived for years with the fear of being caught and knowing I would lose everything,” Wilson told the provincial court in Sydney.
“That fear became a reality and now I have lost everything.”
Wilson, 56, told the court he was unable to stop gambling at a Halifax casino to the point where he sometimes found himself without enough cash for a cab ride home.
“I would end up at the casino chasing my losses, spending all of the money I had available in my accounts and sometimes even spending more than I had left to get a taxi home,” Wilson said, as his daughter and son looked on and wept.
The Crown said the former Liberal defrauded the Nova Scotia government of $60,995 from January 2006 to December 2009 by falsely claiming he paid five people for constituency work when he actually deposited the money in his own account.
Crown lawyer Andrew Macdonald said Wilson repeatedly asked employees and people doing contract work for him to sign blank receipts for money they didn’t receive.
Judge Peter Ross said Wilson used his position to take advantage of the public’s trust.
“Mr. Wilson used his public office to bilk the taxpayers,” Ross said.
“People who make the law must uphold it as well.”
Wilson’s son testified earlier in the day, saying his father’s addiction to gambling drove him to commit his crimes.
“He told me, ‘I have a gambling addiction that caught up with me and that’s consumed me,’” Jonathan Wilson said.
“I’ve never heard my father speak with such emotion. … I’d never heard him speak like that.”
Defence lawyer Bill Burchell said his client had withdrawn more than $130,000 from the bank machine at the casino during a four-year period.
Burchell argued that a conditional sentence would have been more appropriate, citing a psychiatrist’s report that diagnosed Wilson as having a gambling addiction.
“His actions were not motivated by greed,” Burchell said.
“You shouldn’t put somebody like Dave Wilson in jail simply because he’s a gambling addict.”
But the judge concluded otherwise, saying while he believes Wilson is genuinely remorseful for his actions, there must be consequences for what he did.
“To what extent does gambling addiction mitigate stealing from the public?” Ross said.
“Mr. Wilson is not devoid of moral responsibility for his behaviour.”
Ross also sentenced Wilson to 18 months of probation following his jail term, during which he cannot consume alcohol nor go to any gaming establishment.
Wilson, who once served as the chairman of the Liberal caucus, was first elected to represent the Cape Breton riding of Glace Bay in 1999, but he abruptly quit politics in 2010.
The former broadcaster, who was one of four politicians charged last year after a police investigation into constituency allowance spending, is the first to be sentenced in the scandal.
The RCMP probe began after provincial auditor general Jacques Lapointe uncovered several cases of what he described as excessive and inappropriate spending of the allowances.
Lapointe’s February 2010 report ignited public outrage, revealing that thousands of dollars in public money had been spent on a range of items including power generators, TVs, custom-made furniture, laptops and cameras.
A month later, Wilson resigned his seat without explanation, saying only he could no longer fulfil his duties.
His sentencing comes one week after Richard Hurlburt, a former Tory cabinet minister, pleaded guilty to fraud and breach of trust. He will return to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Yarmouth for a sentencing hearing on July 5.
Russell MacKinnon, a former Liberal cabinet minister charged with fraud, breach of trust and uttering forged documents, is to return to court next week for a pre-trial conference and a date for his judge-only trial will be set on May 3.
A preliminary hearing is set to begin June 11 for Trevor Zinck, a former NDP member who now sits as an Independent. He faces charges of fraud over $5,000, breach of trust and two counts of theft over $5,000.
The constituency expense scandal in Nova Scotia came about five years after one that erupted in Newfoundland and Labrador five years earlier. In that province, four politicians, a senior civil servant and a businessman were jailed.
Nova Scotia’s NDP government has implemented changes to the constituency allowance system, such as publicly posting politicians’ expenses, in a bid to improve transparency.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Dave Wilson defrauded the Nova Scotia government of $60,995 from July 2006 to June 2009.