Mike Duffy trial: Suspended senator's cousin received $500 for media monitoring in P.E.I.

One of Mike Duffy's cousins received a $500 cheque for sending the suspended senator articles and emails about political issues and family activities related to P.E.I., though he never asked for, expected it or previously discussed a payment, court heard today.

Payments issued by Duffy friend Gerald Donohue remain in spotlight as trial's 3rd week begins

In addition to 30 charges of fraud and breach of trust, Mike Duffy is also fighting one count of bribery related to a $90,000 cheque he received from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff Nigel Wright. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

One of Mike Duffy's cousins received a $500 cheque for sending the suspended senator articles and emails about political issues and Duffy family activities related to P.E.I., though he never asked for, expected or previously discussed a payment, the trial heard today.

Testimony from Duffy's cousin David McCabe came the same day court heard that Duffy allegedly said that because the Senate budget was tight, he was "going to find another way" to pay for the services of a speech writer and researcher.

The payment to McCabe came from Maple Ridge Media, a company then owned by Gerald Donohue, a friend of Duffy's, who, court has heard, sent a series of cheques on behalf of Duffy for a number of services.

The Crown alleges Duffy set up a slush fund with Donohue for nearly $65,000 to pay for services the Senate would not cover. The RCMP has said Donohue received the money for "little or no apparent work."

Last week, the court heard from some of those service providers who received cheques, including a makeup artist and a personal trainer who said they received payments from Donohue, but had no prior relationship with him. Court has also heard from journalist Mark Bourrie, who said he was surprised to receive a cheque after providing Duffy with advice about dealing with internet trolls.

Duffy is charged with 30 counts of fraud and breach of trust and one count of bribery related to a $90,000 cheque he received from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff Nigel Wright.

Today, on day 10 of the trial, Duffy's cousin testified via video teleconference that he scanned newspaper articles and sent information to his relative since his time hosting a CTV political show up until and after he became a senator. McCabe said he initiated this on his own to keep Duffy abreast of what was going on in the region. 

Some of those articles, McCabe said, also included assorted clippings of media coverage of Duffy's family.

McCabe said he and Duffy never discussed payment and that he had never asked or expected payment. McCabe also stated that he had never heard of Donohue.

Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Donald Bayne, McCabe agreed that he was a "pretty valuable resource" in P.E.I. 

McCabe said he also understood that the payment he received was for providing information to Duffy for political information and not "personal information" relating to his family. 

"I wanted Mike to be a bigger voice for the Island and if he was missing local things … he should be aware of it."

McCabe said he never gave a "kickback" to Duffy from the payment.

Meanwhile, court heard from Peter McQuaid, former chief of staff to former P.E.I. premier Pat Binns, who testified that for more than three years he provided services to Duffy that included speech writing and research on regional issues. 

For the years 2009 and 2011, McQuaid said, he was paid by a government of Canada cheque through the Senate office budget, he said.

But for 2010, McQuaid said, Duffy told him that the Senate budgets were tight and that he couldn't pay "through the Senate."

"He said to me he was going to find another way to pay it," McQuaid said.

McQuaid testified he later received a cheque for $2,887.50  from Donohue's firm Maple Ridge Media Inc.

Services parliamentary related

But under cross-examination, McQuaid said that the services he provided Duffy were all parliamentary related and of importance to a senator from P.E.I.  He agreed with Bayne that there was nothing "sinister" with the way Duffy dealt with the 2010 payment and that he wasn't told to keep the administrative arrangement secret. 

Former Sun News host Ezra Levant had been expected to testify about two cheques he received for writing speeches for Duffy. But the longer-than-expected questioning of witnesses has delayed his testimony.

Levant, who completed the work for Duffy prior to joining Sun's now defunct news network, is expected to deliver his testimony by video link on Friday.

Crown prosecutors are expected to ask him about the two cheques, each worth $2,100, he received from Donohue.

Levant's cheques were issued in April 2010 and March 2011, court records show.

Evidence indicates Donohue issued several of the cheques related to six of the 30 fraud and breach of trust charges against Duffy.

Donohue, who is also expected to testify, has not been charged and neither have cheque recipients.

Trial tough on Duffy, lawyer says

The trial, which will be conducted in two phases, is supposed to end on June 19. 

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      But Ontario court of justice Judge Charles Vaillancourt said last week the timeline will depend on how many people are called to testify, and how long lawyers spend on each witness.

      Bayne told reporters on Friday the trial is affecting his client on a personal level.

      "This is taking a lot out of him and the worst thing for him is stress. As a multiple open-heart surgery patient, it's hard," Bayne said. "You folks have watched the stress of even two weeks."

      With files from Kristy Kirkup