Trevor Zinck plans to remain a Nova Scotia MLA despite pleading guilty Monday to charges of fraud and breach of trust.
The guilty plea came on the fifth day of the Independent representative for Dartmouth North's trial at the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax. A charge of theft over $5,000 was dropped.
"I now have a criminal record. It's not something I'm very proud of; it's a tough one," he said outside the courtroom. "But again, the community and the people I serve — the expressions that were given to me — they acknowledged that no one's perfect. People make mistakes."
Zinck said he wants to remain MLA for Dartmouth North and would consider running in the next election.
"I can tell you as an MLA for my first seven years, I was able to help a lot of people, both personally and financially. I've done a lot of good and this by no means takes this away from me," he said. "I can hold my head high and be proud of that fact."
He called an election "the biggest popularity contest you can go through" and suggested he'd leave his fate to the people he represents. "I can live by that," he said. "There's some definite value in the work I do for the people that I serve."
Zinck added that he had taken calls from constituents during breaks in his trial and was going straight from court to his office to handle more business. "If I was to walk away right now, it would be sad to see the turmoil that would follow," he said.
His office was closed when the CBC visited Monday afternoon.
The judge quizzed Zinck after he pleaded guilty Monday. Zinck confirmed he voluntarily changed his plea to guilty and understands the presumption of innocence is cancelled.
The judge accepted his pleas and told him "you will face the consequences."
The Crown said it will be seeking jail time. Zinck is due back in court Aug. 7 for a sentencing hearing. He faces five years or more in prison.
Zinck was kicked out of the NDP caucus after allegations of financial irregularities in his expenses.
In an agreed statement of facts, Zinck admitted that the Speaker's Office reimbursed him for $10,060 in expense claims he filed in 2008 and 2009, even though he never paid those listed in his claims.
Four politicians convicted
Zinck is one of four politicians charged in February 2011 following an investigation by the province's auditor general into constituency allowance spending.
Zinck is the only one who still sits in the legislature. Gordie Gosse, Speaker of the House, said he was surprised by the guilty plea. He said Zinck remains an MLA.
"It's not automatic removal. The House of Assembly would have to take that matter into their consideration, not myself as speaker," he said.
The legislature is not sitting and Gosse said there were no plans to resume sitting to remove Zinck. The NDP government would have to request that Gosse reconvene the House.
A recent change to legislation means Zinck will likely lose his pension following the conviction.
Gosse said the expense scandal couldn't happen today. "There's transparency and openness," he said.
In the case of the other three MLAs:
- Former Liberal cabinet minister Russell MacKinnon pleaded guilty to breach of trust for submitting nearly $11,000 in false expense claims. In March, he was handed an eight-month conditional sentence and a year of probation.
- Dave Wilson, a former Liberal, served four months in jail after admitting to defrauding the public of nearly $61,000.
- Richard Hurlburt, a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, was sentenced to a year of house arrest after pleading guilty to fraud and breach of trust.