Mike Duffy trial: Taxpayers billed for non-Senate business, court hears

Senate contracts for services that included a makeup artist, a personal trainer and even an enlarged picture of Barbara Bush would likely not have been awarded because none of those services are considered parliamentary work, a Senate human resources official has told the Mike Duffy trial.

Suspended senator accused of having taxpayers pay for fitness trainer and makeup artist

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6 years ago
RCMP Cpl. Greg Horton, Senator Mike Duffy, and Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne arrive at the Ottawa courthouse. 1:41

Senate contracts for services that included a makeup artist, a personal trainer and even an enlarged picture of Barbara Bush would likely not have been awarded because none of those services are considered parliamentary work, a Senate human resources official has told the Mike Duffy trial.

The testimony heard Monday is tied to the suspended senator's controversial $65,000 worth of contracts with his friend Gerald Donohue. The RCMP have said that $65,000 was paid to Donohue for "little or no apparent work." The Crown is attempting to show that payments earmarked for those contracts were expensed by Duffy for non-Senate business. ​

​Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust related to expenses he claimed as a senator.

On Monday, the fifth day of the trial, Crown prosecutor Jason Neubauer questioned Sonia Makhlouf, a Senate human resources official, about Duffy's contracts with Donohue.

Makhlouf's job is to assess Senate contracts and ensure the services being billed pertain to parliamentary business. However, she said, it's not her job to validate that those services are actually carried out.

According to the terms of the Donohue contracts, the description of services included work for editing and writing services.

Neubauer asked Makhlouf if the contracts would have been awarded had the description of services instead been for services such as payment to a volunteer, a $500 payment to staff, payment for physical fitness training, payment for a makeup artist. Makhlouf said no, and that she would either seek more information from the senator or get guidance from a higher level. 

She was also asked if photographic services, including enlarging a picture of Barbara Bush or an enlargement of an image of Duffy's daughter and grandson would be approved.

Again, Makhlouf said it "has to be in the context of Senate business related."

The Crown entered into evidence invoices from Jiffy Photo and Print addressed to Mike Duffy, "c/o Gerald Donohue Maple Ridge Media," which showed costs for picture enhancements, including those for photos of Bush and Duffy's daughter and grandson, as well as other personal pictures. Cheques entered into evidence appear to show Donohue's companies paying for these expenses.

The Crown has contended that the contracts with Donohue were effectively a clearinghouse for Duffy to hand out money "as he saw fit," and a "reserve pool over which there was no possibility of financial oversight."

Donohue was hired by Duffy as an independent contractor and is expected to be a witness at the trial.

Duffy's lawyer, Donald Bayne, will cross-examine Makhlouf on Tuesday.

Last week, Bayne conducted an extensive cross-examination of Crown witness Mark Audcent, a former Senate law clerk, for nearly three days.

Bayne zeroed in on rules governing residency, travel and office expenses filed by members of the Senate, and repeatedly asked Audcent if these regulations were "broad."

Audcent admitted the rules around residency, for example, do not include a clear definition of what constitutes a primary residence.

Residency is one of the core issues in the trial. Duffy designated a home in P.E.I. as his primary residence and maintains this made him eligible to claim meals and living expenses for his time spent in the capital.

The Crown argues P.E.I. is not Duffy's primary residence.

Not much damage so far, author says

Author and journalist Dan Leger, who penned Duffy: Stardom to Senate to Scandal, said Audcent's testimony did not damage Duffy.

Sonia Makhlouf, a Senate human resources official, testified Monday about Mike Duffy's contracts with his friend Gerald Donohue, under examination by Crown prosecutor Jason Neubauer, right. (Greg Banning)

"The fact that Duffy emerged from that without any deep, slashing wounds is probably a good sign for his defence," Leger told CBC News Network.

"The other major element in all of this is the tremendous document dump that has been done with the Duffy diaries, the expense logs and just mountains of documents people are going through in search of the real story."

The Duffy diaries, which were entered into evidence last week, give a rare window into the personal and political life of the embattled senator, including entries about movies and dinner companions.

The entries also shed light on the volume of Conservative functions attended by Duffy.

"Here was a senator who was essentially hired, if you will, by the Conservative government, by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to operate as a Conservative party fundraiser and sort of public relations man," Leger said. "This is what Mike Duffy did for a living."

Bayne emphasized Duffy's relationship with the government and the prime minister when he introduced a photo into evidence last week.

The picture, dated June 11, 2009, included a message from Stephen Harper, "To Duff. A great journalist and a great senator. Thanks for being one of my best, hardest-working appointments ever."

Duffy's trial, which will be conducted in two phases, is set to run until at least June 19.

A forensic audit, ordered by the Senate, is also underway and an interim report is expected to be released this spring.

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With files from Kristy Kirkup and The Canadian Press


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