Beyond the Headlines

Richard Hurlburt's Christmas scam

Posted: Jul 6, 2012 11:07 AM ET Last Updated: Jul 6, 2012 11:07 AM ET
Richard Hurlburt knew how easy it was to steal from taxpayers and he knew exactly when to do it.
 
Every one of the four false expense claims that now see him facing a possible jail term was filed in the month of December.
 
In December, 2006, the former Conservative cabinet minister claimed $3,508.92  for a big screen TV for his constituency office - it was actually installed in his home.
 
In December, 2007, he claimed $7,410.00 for renovations to his constituency office - work that was never done.
 
In December, 2008, he submitted another "receipt" for $5,367.50 for renovations to his office, and you guessed it, there were no renovations.
 
That same December, Hurlburt submitted a "receipt" for $9,034.35 for a Honda generator he said was installed in his home. There was just one problem. There was no generator.
 
The "receipt" was actually only a quote. A much cheaper, $900 generator wasn't installed until October 2009, three months after the Auditor-General began snooping around MLA expense accounts.
 
You may have noticed a pattern here.
 
Every December, for at least three years, Hurlburt turned his taxpayers' funded expense account into his personal piggy bank.
 
So why December?
 
Well, before the rules were changed, MLAs had a maximum amount they could spend every month. If they didn't spend it they could carry it over to the next month, and keep doing that until the end of year. But they weren't allowed to carry the funds over into the new year. So, if an MLA didn't spend all of his or her accumulated surplus in December, the money went back into government coffers.
 
It's an accounting system that's known as "use it or lose it" budgeting.
 
That's why when the MLA expense scandal broke, we found many of the questionable items - the high-end cameras, the top of the line laptops, even that $737 espresso maker - were on the MLA's December expense claims.
 
It was like finding extra money in your bank account and going out and buying yourself an early Christmas present. Only this was the taxpayers' bank account.
 
As Hurlburt's lawyer, Stan MacDonald, said in court, Hurlburt took advantage of an expense claims system that was poorly run.
 
The difference between Hurlburt and most of the other MLAs was, come December, he turned "use it or lose it" into "steal it or lose it".
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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