Politics

Mike Duffy trial: Son unaware father was using company to pay Duffy expenses, court hears

The former director of a construction firm used to pay some of Mike Duffy's Senate expenses says he didn't know his father was using the company to write cheques for services unrelated to the construction business, court heard today.

Company's ex-director says father who made payments had no official role or cheque-signing privileges

Suspended Senator Mike Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery related to expenses he claimed as a senator and later repaid with money provided by the prime minister's former chief of staff Nigel Wright. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The former director of a construction firm used to pay some of Mike Duffy's Senate expenses says he didn't know his father was using the company to write cheques for services unrelated to the construction business, court heard today.

On the 11th day of Duffy's trial in provincial court in Ottawa, Matthew Donohue, the son of Gerald Donohue, who is expected to be a key witness in the trial, also testified that his father did not have cheque-signing privileges for the company Maple Ridge Media Inc., which later became Ottawa ICF in 2009.

Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery related to expenses he claimed as a senator and later repaid with money provided by the prime minister's former chief of staff Nigel Wright.

Duffy awarded contracts valued at around $65,000 to Donohue, who, the RCMP have alleged, did "little or no apparent work." The Crown alleges that Gerald Donohue, through those companies, used that $65,000 to pay for inappropriate or non-parliamentary services for Duffy.

Many of these services, billed to the taxpayer, were paid by cheques from either Maple Ridge Media or, later, Ottawa ICF and signed by Gerald Donohue.

​But Matthew Donohue said his father had a minor role with either company — he helped drive him places, manage bookkeeping, and took phone calls — and had no official position or title.  Donohue said his mother, Gail, had a 60 per cent share of the company while, he, Matthew, owned 40 per cent. 

No signing authority

Donohue said that although his mother was president, he, as director, did the day-to-day work. He said he was with the company, which, to his knowledge was solely dedicated to construction, from 2003 to 2013. 

Donohue said he didn't believe his father had cheque-signing authority, but he confirmed his father's signature on a series of company cheques presented as evidence.

Some of the those cheques, signed by Gerald Donohue, included a $40,000 dividend payment and a $25,000 "management bonus" to Matthew. Others included expense payments signed by Gerald Donohue to himself. (Gerald Donohue had rented out a workshop in the backyard of his home to the company).

Asked by Crown prosecutor Mark Holmes whether it caused him concern that his father had written those cheques, Donohue said, "I don't see an issue with him being compensated for expenses on my behalf."

​Holmes asked Donohue if he was aware his father was writing cheques to individuals unrelated to the construction business.

Donohue said that clerical bookkeeping was not "really my thing" and that around mid-2010, his interest in the business began to wane, and he didn't really pay attention to it.  

Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne will cross-examine Matthew Donohue on Wednesday.

Earlier, the owner of a Kanata, Ont.-based print shop testified that Duffy told him to keep personal photos separate from non-personal material and to send invoices for photos and picture enhancements to the firm of the suspended senator's friend to ensure speedier payments.

Mark Vermeer, owner of Kanata Ont.-based Jiffy Photo and Print, said that both Duffy and his wife, Heather, paid personally for photo finishing on more than one occasion. 

'Would get paid faster'

Vermeer also testified that Duffy told him he "would get paid faster" if he invoiced the firm of Gerald Donohue, Duffy's friend, because invoicing through the Senate could take 60 to 90 days to receive payment.

By invoicing Donohue, Vermeer said, he received payment in 30 days. Donohue, who is dealing with serious health issues, may not testify until next week.

The trial heard more about costs the suspended senator allegedly charged to taxpayers for photos and picture enhancements. The costs, roughly just under $1,500, included enhancements of former first lady Barbara Bush and Duffy's daughter and grandson as well as other personal pictures.

The Crown has already entered into evidence a number of invoices from Jiffy Photo and Print addressed to Mike Duffy, "c/o Gerald Donohue Maple Ridge Media," which include costs of a picture enlargement of Barbara Bush, wife of former president George H.W. Bush, for $10.99, and two Medite mounts of Bush valued at $34.30.

Other photo services, according to the invoices, include picture enlargements of former U.S. president Bill Clinton, Queen Elizabeth and of Duffy's daughter and grandson.

The Jiffy Photo and Print bills were paid through firms owned by Donohue.

Bayne has previously argued in court that photographs and development of films are valid uses of senators' expense budgets. He also pointed out that the Harper government has spent $2.3 million on photographic services.

Bayne said that while it may have been "administratively irregular" for Duffy to treat some of these services as part of research and contracts, the work, as described by Bayne, would be considered Senate related.

Court also heard from L. Ian MacDonald, a former speech writer for prime minister Brian Mulroney and currently a freelance writer and consultant. MacDonald said he was paid $7,000 through Donohue's firm for a speech he wrote for Duffy in 2009. The 2,500- to 3,000-word speech was titled Why I Am a Conservativeand was to be used as a core speech that could be given on many occasions, MacDonald testified. 

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With files from Kady O'Malley

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