Sitting through the trial of former MLA Russell MacKinnon last week seemed a lot like what baseball great Yogi Berra once called "deja vu all over again."
As the fourth day of his trial was about to begin, MacKinnon, who represented Cape Breton West for 20 years, pleaded guilty to breach of trust. But before his change of heart the court heard details of exactly how he scammed taxpayers out of thousands of dollars.
MacKinnon submitted receipts to the Speaker's office claiming he had paid employees for work over and above their salary. To get the money, the document had to be signed by the employee, along with a description of the work done. Two employees testified MacKinnon had them sign blank documents. They had no idea what they were for, and they never received the money.
When asked why he would sign blank receipts, George MacKeigan, who worked for MacKinnon for four months in 2006 testified, "I trusted Mr. MacKinnon 100 per cent."
The Speaker's office also trusted MacKinnon, and his fellow MLAs. That's why the office blindly approved virtually any receipt submitted by MLAs prior to the Auditor General's audit in 2009 (remember big screen TVs, fancy cameras and obscenely expensive espresso machines).
Now here's were the deja vu comes in.
What MacKinnon did is exactly the same scam run by former MLA Dave Wilson. Wilson, who was the long-time MLA for Glace Bay, pleaded guilty to stealing more than $60,000 from taxpayers from 2005-2009.
Wilson, like MacKinnon, had employees sign blank receipts, then he also filled in a fairy tale version of some alleged work performed, pocketing the money himself. If he didn't have a signed receipt, Wilson used their personal information and then forged their signature.
I'm not an expert in the mathematical theory of probabilities, but you have to wonder what are the chances of this being a coincidence? What are the odds that two members of the Nova Scotia Legislature, members of the same party, sitting in the same caucus, came up with this exact same scam completely on their own?
It's enough to make even the most trusting person wonder how many other MLAs knew how easy it was to score some extra cash at taxpayers' expense? And if they did know what was going on, why didn't they speak up?
Those are questions that will likely never be answered.
The NDP government has repeatedly says it has no interest in expanding the audit into MLA expenses prior to 2009.
And both Russell MacKinnon and Dave Wilson, the two MLAs who were eventually caught, have so far, refused to talk about where they got the idea.