Politics·Analysis

Mike Duffy Trial: Gerald Donohue and the $64K question

The Crown contends companies connected to long-time Mike Duffy friend Gerald Donohue received more than $64,000 from the Senate. Donohue's testimony this week is expected to be central to the Crown's allegation of fraud.

Relationship with Duffy spanned decades, his testimony could make or break Crown's case

Suspended senator Mike Duffy, shown here leaving the Ottawa courthouse earlier in his trial, faces 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust, and bribery. The Crown's case for eight of those charges could rely on the testimony this week of Duffy's former colleague and long-time friend, Gerald Donohue, who was awarded tens of thousands of dollars of Senate contracts. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

​Gerald Donohue is expected to emerge this week as a central figure in the fraud and breach of trust trial of suspended Senator Mike Duffy.

But who is Donohue and what did he do for the $64,916.50 the Senate directed his way on Duffy's behalf?

Duffy and Donohue were friends for years before they became partners in a complicated, four-year business relationship that saw Duffy arrange thousands of dollars in contracts for two companies connected to Donohue, for what the RCMP say was " little or no apparent work."

The Crown alleges those contracts were set up as slush funds through which Duffy funneled cash to favoured contractors, some of whom provided services Duffy was allegedly not allowed to bill to his Senate budget.

If those allegations are true it would establish Donohue as the enabler of fraud — either intentionally, as a venal co-conspirator with Duffy, or unwittingly, as his old friend's patsy.

The two men share a relationship that goes back to 1988 and their days together at Ottawa TV station CJOH.

Contrasting personalities

Gerald Donohue, or Gerry as he was called, was a long-term employee: a former technician and hard-nosed union representative who changed sides and became the company's human resources manager.

Duffy, meanwhile, was a star at the CBC, who was lured to CJOH to be the first host of what became the popular weekend politics show Sunday Edition. Technically, Duffy was subordinate to Donohue, but Duffy was the celebrity. 

CBC News interviewed several former co-workers of Donohue's who worked with or under him at the same time Mike Duffy worked at CJOH.

Those who were willing to be interviewed were unwilling to put their names on the record. Some are active in the media or politics and fear an association with Duffy's trial.

The two were described as an odd couple.

Duffy was the Maritime boy who made it big in the capital and wore natty ties and elegant suits.

Donohue carried the air of the rural Ottawa Valley with him everywhere he went. He wore ill-fitting suits and rolled-up shirt sleeves.

While Duffy was a gregarious and chatty man who sought approval in the vein of Falstaff, Donohue, according to one source, was roundly disliked.

Donohue was also remembered as a meticulous note-taker, an able representative and a tough negotiator. He brought those skills with him when he joined management and the people he used to represent were not happy.

"He was never liked and never trusted and was viewed as an embarrassment," a former employee said.

Unable to work?

Meanwhile, Duffy's show was a roaring success. It was picked up by many of the growing CTV network's affiliates across the country, helping underwrite the program's production cost.

Donohue and Duffy had little reason to interact, but one former co-worker suggests Donohue emerged as his defender in complaints to management about the star's behaviour.

Perhaps this led to a friendship that spanned decades.

The circumstances of Donohue's departure from CJOH in 1997 are unclear, but he told RCMP investigators he retired due to ill health.

He was on a disability pension of some kind until he reached age 65, his son Matt testified last week. Donohue told investigators he was not permitted to work for money while in receipt of that pension.

But Senate documents make clear it was Donohue who was contracted by Duffy to provide "editorial services," even though the contracts were paid to Maple Ridge Media and Ottawa ICF.

The two companies were owned by members of Donohue's family and headquartered at Donohue's house outside Ottawa.

In his interviews with RCMP, Donohue said Duffy had asked him to "work for him as a consultant, conducting research and providing advice."

Testimony delayed, expected soon

Meanwhile, Senate administrators were advised that Donohue's duties were to "monitor media and brief the senator on emerging and current issues of special interest to the senator," to write and edit speeches and press releases and to provide counsel in the "areas of media and communications."

It's all too much for some of those who used to work with Gerry Donohue. They remember Donohue as a low-level technician and a union negotiator before he became a management tough guy. He was never involved in the editorial side of the news business, they suggest.

Media consulting, one former colleague said, is "so far from Gerry's field of expertise."

Whatever work Donohue may have done for Mike Duffy over the four years his family companies were under contract, "it did not result in any tangible document report or work product," he apparently told the RCMP.

Donohue's testimony has been delayed by a recent hospitalization. Whenever he does speak it will be by remote link, the court has been told. The 37-kilometre trip to Ottawa from Donohue's home in rural Carp is said to be too much for him to manage. He suffers from a heart condition and also has kidney trouble.

Donohue did not return a call to his home Sunday.

What's Donohue likely to say? His alleged role in some of the frauds with which Duffy has been charged appears significant. His testimony could make or break the Crown's case in eight of 31 charges.  

One who used to work with Donohue imagines he will protect himself, likely at his old friend Duffy's expense.

"Gerry Donohue is all about Gerry Donohue," the source said.

"There's not going to be any loyalty there."

About the Author

James Cudmore covered politics and military affairs for CBC News until Jan. 8, 2016.

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