Nova Scotia

Richmond County councillor says he's being blackmailed over male escort call

Coun. Steve Sampson of Richmond County, Cape Breton says he's the target of a blackmail attempt over expense reports recently released to the public.

Coun. Steve Sampson says his 2014 hotel bill included a $1.29 charge for calling an escort agency

Steve Sampson alleges he was defamed by Facebook posts. (CBC)

A municipal councillor in Cape Breton's Richmond County says he's the target of a blackmail attempt over expense reports recently released to the public. 

Coun. Steve Sampson said he received a letter Tuesday containing a photocopy of a hotel bill he incurred while travelling in 2014 on county business. Included in that bill was a phone call to a male escort agency, he said. 

"The unsigned letter demanded I resign my position as county councillor by Friday, April 8, and agree never to run for public office again," Sampson said Thursday at a news conference at the Prince George Hotel in Halifax.

The total cost of that hotel phone call was $1.29, which Sampson said he believes he paid out of his own pocket, although he said he can't remember with absolute certainty. 

Sampson said the letter writer's attempt was clearly to shame. But he said he had nothing to feel embarrassed about, adding that his private life is his own business.

"There are things that do go on that are private and that are personal and I feel that's exactly where it stays," he said. "It has no business with one's operation if one is doing the job effectively."

Expenses under scrutiny

Sampson said the letter is the latest development in the ongoing controversy surrounding the council of the Municipality of the County of Richmond. 

In March, the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman began an investigation into travel and expense claims submitted by councillors, following complaints by residents concerned about how those expenses were being claimed. 

One resident pursued those concerns by filing a freedom of information request for the expense statements of two council staff and Sampson. The hotel bill in question was one of the statements released to the public following that request.

Councillors also voted unanimously for a forensic audit of travel expenses and credit charges for councillors and senior staff.

Coun. Steve Sampson voted against conducting a forensic audit in December, but said in March one should be done because of demands by the public. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Things have gone too far

But Sampson said the letter is proof that the controversy has gone too far. 

"The events of council over the last couple years have been very strained and we've had to make some very important decisions," he said.

"There were those that had opposing views and it just escalated and unfortunately took a personal tone, which was very unfortunate, and that's why we're at the point we're at today."

Sampson said he has filed a complaint with the RCMP in St. Peters, Cape Breton. He said police treated the complaint as a criminal matter.

No one from the detachment could be reached for comment Thursday afternoon. 

"They took all of the information and hopefully will pursue the perpetrator or perpetrators of this terrible offence," Sampson said.

Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, he said he's confident residents of Richmond County will give accusations against him the credence they deserve.

"Unlike the blackmailer, I have complete faith in the fairness and good judgement of the people of Richmond County," Sampson said.

"I trust them to weigh the motives of the blackmailer against my conduct over many years."


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