The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary laid criminal charges Tuesday against three of the key players in a legislative spending scandal that has rocked political circles for more than a year.
Ed Byrne was forced to resign his cabinet post in June 2006 and left politics later that year.
Ed Byrne — who was forced out of cabinet in June 2006 when Auditor General John Noseworthy revealed Byrne had received 10 times his allotted constituency allowance — has been charged with a count of fraud over $5,000, as well as a count each of uttering forged documents and breach of trust.
A former government house leader, Byrne led the Progressive Conservatives before Premier Danny Williams took over the party.
Byrne, 44, who had been one of Williams's closest political allies, resigned from the house of assembly last December.
The RNC also charged New Democrat Randy Collins, 55, who resigned his seat in the house of assembly in February. Collins, who had represented Labrador West, faces the same three charges as Byrne, as well as a charge of fraud on the government.
Also charged is Bill Murray, who was suspended in June 2006 as director of financial operation at the house of assembly. Murray, 53, faces a count each of fraud over $5,000, breach of trust and uttering forged documents, as well as three counts of fraud on the government.
Randy Collins, a former NDP representative for Labrador West, will appear in court in October.
The RNC has already laid criminal charges against two of the other five politicians named in various reports that Noseworthy's office released during 2006.
Wally Andersen, the retiring Liberal member for Torngat Mountains, was charged in July with the same counts facing Byrne.
Jim Walsh, a former Liberal cabinet minister who was defeated in the 2003 election, was charged last week on counts that included a charge of fraud against the government, which was formerly known as influence peddling. Walsh has also been charged with fraud over $5,000 and breach of trust.
Investigation still underway: police
The RNC said in a statement issued Tuesday evening that its investigation is continuing.
John Noseworthy's audits led to a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary investigation, which currently involves charges against four politicians and a suspended bureaucrat.
Police opened the investigation in the summer of 2006, as Noseworthy released the first reports into constituency allowances and the finances of the house of assembly.
Noseworthy found that five politicians — including Liberal Percy Barrett, who has not been charged — together received about $1.6 million beyond their entitlements in their constituency allowances.
Moreover, Noseworthy found that legislative funds were used to pay for about $2.6 million in untendered contracts for materials that included trinkets, fridge magnets, gold rings and memorabilia — some of which, Noseworthy said, could not be shown to exist.
Noseworthy's reports sparked a public uproar, as well as embarrassment that crossed party lines.
They also prompted Premier Danny Williams to commission Derek Green — chief justice of the Newfoundland Supreme Court's trials division — to study spending at the house of assembly.
Green's final report, which was released in June, found numerous problems at the legislature, including weak controls, poor monitoring and inadequate staff training.
By coincidence, an independent oversight committee that had been among Green's recommendations is scheduled to hold its first meeting on Wednesday. The house of assembly management commission's deliberations will be held in public, and minutes will be available.
Problems occurred during 'blackout': auditor
Noseworthy found that most of the irregularities at the house of assembly happened during a so-called "blackout," when a legislative committee barred the former auditor general from reviewing the house's affairs.
The provincial government earlier this year brought a civil suit against Murray, alleging that Murray breached the trust of his position. In a statement of defence, Murray said he had done nothing illegal.
This weekend, the RNC issued a public alert regarding Murray, who had been reported missing. He was located safely early on Sunday morning.
The RNC said Tuesday that Byrne, Murray and Collins are each scheduled to make court appearances in St. John's in October.
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