Former Nova Scotia MLA Dave Wilson is heading to jail following an expense claim scandal that rocked the legislature.

Wilson was handed nine months jail time and 18 months probation by Judge Peter Ross late Thursday afternoon in a Sydney courtroom.

He defrauded Nova Scotia taxpayers of nearly $61,000 to support his gambling addiction, a court heard Thursday.

It was an emotional scene in the courtroom as the judge read the lengthy sentence.

Wilson apologized to his family and the people of the province. His daughter sobbed as the judge spoke.

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Defence lawyer Steven O'Leary says his client has made a 'heartfelt apology to the people of Nova Scotia.'

Wilson told the court he was truly ashamed of his actions.

"Mr. Wilson was very prepared," said his lawyer, Steven O'Leary. "He apologized to the good people of his constituency in Glace Bay. He made a heartfelt apology to the people of Nova Scotia. He was well-prepared for what took place today."

The former Liberal MLA for Glace Bay pleaded guilty last September to one count each of uttering forged documents, fraud over $5,000 and breach of trust.

The Crown tabled reports Thursday stating that Wilson has an impulse disorder and a pathological gambling addiction.

Wilson said he lived every day in fear of being caught.

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Crown lawyer Andrew Macdonald says the sentence sends a strong message about the misuse of public funds.

Crown attorneys said Wilson capitalized on his position as a highly regarded MLA and took money he wasn't entitled to over four years.

They said he submitted 36 false expense receipts using five people's names — including his niece and brother-in-law —totalling $60,995.

The Crown called Wilson's actions deliberate and noted that he never got a loan or maxed out his own credit card.

Crown lawyer Andrew Macdonald said it was a strong message to public figures who misuse public funds.

"If sentenced they will be treated firmly by the judicial system. It will be taken very seriously."

Witnesses shocked

Several witnesses for the defence told the court they were shocked to learn of Wilson's troubles.

Jonathan Wilson said he's convinced his father's addiction problems are over: "He has lost far too much to ever do this again."

Friend Dave Leblanc and Sheldon McNeil, a member of the Royal Canadian Legion in Glace Bay, also provided character references.

The Crown asked for a jail term of 12 months to two years, claiming a conditional sentence is not enough.

Sudden resignation

Wilson was first elected in 1999. He was re-elected five times, becoming the chairman of the Liberal caucus at one point.

He resigned suddenly in March 2010 after the provincial auditor general found that many of the province's MLAs submitted questionable expense claims over a number of years.

At the time, Wilson sent an email to journalists stating he no longer felt he could fulfil his duties and responsibilities as Liberal MLA for Glace Bay. He did not elaborate on why he was quitting politics.

Auditor General Jacques Lapointe turned over his files to the RCMP, which conducted a lengthy investigation.

Wilson was charged in February 2011 with 31 counts of uttering a forged document and one count each of fraud exceeding $5,000 and breach of trust.

Ex-MLA Richard Hurlburt has pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and breach of trust in the same spending scandal. He will be sentenced on July 5.

Russell MacKinnon, another former MLA, and current Independent MLA Trevor Zinck are fighting the charges against them.