Nfld. & Labrador

Disgraced N.L. politician gets full parole

Jim Walsh, a former cabinet minister who was jailed in January amid Newfoundland and Labrador's legislative spending scandal, has been granted full parole.

Jim Walsh, a former cabinet minister who was jailed in January amid Newfoundland and Labrador's legislative spending scandal, has been granted full parole.

The National Parole Board found that Walsh — who was given a 22-month sentence for defrauding taxpayers — has still not accepted full responsibility for years of false expense claims that put nearly $160,000 in his pocket.

Nonetheless, the parole board panel that heard the case determined that Walsh, who had served as tourism minister in a Liberal government in the 1990s, is at a very low risk to re-offend, in part because of the unusual circumstances that allowed him to commit fraud.

Walsh, who sat in the legislature from 1989 until his defeat in 2003, was convicted on charges of breach of trust and fraud over $5,000, and was sentenced to jail on Jan. 6.

Three other politicians and a senior civil servant were convicted and sentenced in the spending scandal, which erupted when Auditor General John Noseworthy released scathing reports in 2006 that showed gross financial mismanagement at the house of assembly.

"Taxpayers frown on such behaviour as they want elected officials to spend tax dollars wisely," this week's parole board decision said.

"In your case, you breached that trust in the name of greed and, in doing so, cast a pall of suspicion on all elected officials," the decision said.

"Although you have accepted some responsibility, you still tend to blame others for allowing some of these fraudulent activities to carry on for such an extended period of time."

Denied knowing of fraud

During 27 days of testimony at his trial, Walsh fought the charges, insisting that he did not know the extra money he was receiving through his constituency claims were obtained through fraud.

The parole board decision found that Walsh has suffered beyond his incarceration.

"You have brought a lot of shame, humiliation and embarrassment to yourself and your family," the decision said.

"This very public affair garnered a significant amount of press and you will have to endure the glares of your former constituents and other citizens for some years to come."

Partly because of the shame, the board determined that Walsh is a low risk to commit crimes again. It also noted that Walsh's offences were "very situational and committed under a very specific set of circumstances."

Part of larger scandal

Walsh and three other politicians — former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Ed Byrne, former Liberal cabinet minister Wally Andersen and former New Democratic Party representative Randy Collins — were all given jail terms in the scandal.

Key evidence in the Walsh case came from Bill Murray, the former legislative financial director, who would later be sentenced for taking kickbacks from politicians and approving phoney expense claims.

Noseworthy's audits showed that $1.6 million was paid to five politicians for suspect claims. One of them was not criminally charged in the case.

The audits, which also showed taxpayers were overbilled for trinkets, gold rings and memorabilia that might never have actually existed, sparked a political furor and a complete overhaul of how the house of assembly is managed.

Walsh told the parole board he plans to live with his wife, who supports him. Walsh's lawyer told the court in January that Walsh had already been repaying money to the Crown, and had been forced into bankruptcy.

The decision shows that Walsh was released with an electronic monitoring device in May, and has been living under the supervision of his brother since then.

As a condition of his parole, he must reveal all financial transactions at the request of his parole supervisor, to ensure his income derives from legitimate sources.