'I lost Heather': Former Selinger aide tells court she committed fraud because of gambling addiction

A former aide to then-premier Greg Selinger who pleaded guilty to fraud testified Friday that she defrauded the union she worked for out of thousands because she became addicted to gambling.

Heather Grant-Jury, previously top aide to former premier Greg Selinger, pleaded guilty last year to fraud

Heather Grant-Jury, pictured in this 2004 photo, was once Premier Greg Selinger's principal secretary. She pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000 in January, and prosecutors are seeking a jail sentence. (Radio-Canada/CBC)

A former aide to then-premier Greg Selinger testified in court Friday that she defrauded the union she once worked for out of thousands because she became addicted to gambling.

Heather Grant-Jury testified in a Winnipeg courtroom for the first time Friday after pleading guilty to fraud over $5,000 in January 2018.

"I lost Heather," Grant-Jury said Friday in a Winnipeg courtroom, speaking of her addiction.

"I exhausted our credit card, I drained our accounts. And then, when that was gone, my husband and daughter knew nothing. So in order to put food on the table or buy whatever I needed to … I kept the cash aside and used a [union] credit card."

Grant-Jury admitted to making fraudulent charges on her business credit card while working for the United Food and Commercial Workers union before she was fired in 2016.

Receipts described in court Friday include thousands spent on gift cards, groceries and personal items. Charges include a leather tote, a bracelet and a dollhouse that Grant-Jury said she purchased fraudulently in order to donate to the Christmas Cheer Board.

Heather Grant-Jury was NDP Premier Greg Selinger's principal secretary. (UFCW Local 832)

Crown attorneys Donald Melnyk and Peter Edgett argue she racked up roughly $160,000 in fraudulent charges from May 2011 to December 2015.

But Grant-Jury's lawyer, Zilla Jones, says it was more like $60,000, and Grant-Jury testified Friday the fraud started in 2014.

The proceeding in Manitoba's provincial court is to determine how much money was involved before Justice Ryan Rolston decides on a sentence.

Pattern of suspicious charges, thousands spent at Safeway

Grant-Jury told court she became addicted to gambling in the latter half of 2014, shortly before taking a leave of absence from the union to work as principal secretary for former premier Greg Selinger, after five NDP ministers left the cabinet that year.

She testified the stress of her work for the province intensified her addiction.

Const. Lyndon Stadnyk, the Winnipeg police officer who led the investigation into Grant-Jury, also testified Friday.

Crown attorney Melnyk spent more than an hour poring over receipts with Stadnyk, highlighting thousands of dollars spent on gift cards, groceries and items including housewares, jewelry and two Fitbits.

Stadnyk told court he'd seen a pattern in the charges, where Grant-Jury would make multiple purchases within minutes of each other and file them under separate accounting codes.

In one case, the receipts show Grant-Jury spent more than $1,200 in four minutes, spread over three separate transactions.

Grant-Jury told court some of the purchases the Crown called fraudulent were actually legitimate. The Fitbits, for example, were for a gift basket for the workplace, she testified, and hundreds spent at a picture frame store went to art framed for the union's training centre.

Beauty products, lottery tickets among items purchased

Court heard last year that a union accountant first raised concerns in late 2015, when Grant-Jury returned to the union from her secondment to Selinger and filed incomplete receipts. Further digging found thousands in suspicious charges on a union business credit card.

Grant-Jury and another employee, whose credit card she had briefly borrowed, were suspended as the union conducted a forensic audit. Grant-Jury was fired in January 2016 and the union brought the issue to police and Selinger.

Selinger's chief of staff called for Grant-Jury to resign from the NDP re-election planning committee and to vacate her seat on the board of Manitoba Public Insurance.

The audit revealed more than 300 expenses flagged as suspicious, including 16 Safeway purchases totalling over $4,000 in June and almost $7,000 in in March of 2014 alone, court heard last year. Many of the Safeway charges appeared to be for personal groceries and hundreds of dollars in gift cards, court heard.

Other transactions in 2015 were for beauty products, purchases from a book store, hundreds of dollars at a Brandon-based gift shop and a $666 charge at a picture frame store, court heard last year. Another payment at Foodfare turned out to be for lottery tickets and cigarettes.

The hearing will resume on March 21.

With files from Bryce Hoye