Embattled senator Wallin billed taxpayers for up to $25,000 in Toronto trips, RCMP says
In the latest chapter of the senate expenses scandal, which first made headlines nearly two years ago, RCMP investigators have disclosed new information after interviewing a number of high profile Torontonians with connections to the expenses of former conservative senator Pamela Wallin.
The Mounties have been investigating Wallin’s expense account claims since last year when it came to light that she may have improperly claimed up to 150 personal trips as necessary to her work as a senator, costing taxpayers upwards of $145,000 in public funds.
The RCMP has alleged that, while still operating as a director on the boards of Porter Airlines and Gluskin Sheff & Associates, Wallin footed taxpayers with the bill to fund her own personal travels to meetings and events she was using to further her own, private, business career.
Wallin has denied these accusations, insisting that the suspicious claims are due to clerical errors from her office staff and has repaid almost $150,000 to the senate out of an “abundance of caution”.
In their most recent release of court records regarding the case, the RCMP have revealed that they have interviewed a number of prominent Toronto residents, including Porter Airlines CEO Robert Deluce and War Child founder Samantha Nutt, in relation to 24 publically funded trips to the city Wallin made as a senator.
Wallin told auditors that the trips and meetings in Toronto, costing taxpayers around $28,000, were official senate business, claims which prompted the RCMP to investigate the meetings.
While none of the Torontonians interviewed have been implicated in any wrongdoing, the majority of them, according to the RCMP, have testified that they did not meet with the former senator on the dates she has provided the RCMP.
Corporal Rudy Exantus of the RCMP wrote in his affidavit that “Senator Wallin used public funds to travel to Toronto in order to pursue her own private and business interests”.
“Senator Wallin, when confronted by an external audit, misrepresented the nature of these trips to Toronto, and … [fabricated] meetings which the RCMP was able to determine (through interviews) to have never taken place,” said Cpl. Exantus.
Also piquing RCMP interest is an expense claim for a trip that Wallin made to Burlington in September of 2010 to attend a dinner event held for Conservative MP Mike Wallace.
A former top conservative fundraiser herself, Wallin insists that the dinner was in no way a fundraiser for the Conservative Party. However, according to the RCMP documents, it seems likely that the event was held to “amass funds for the next election”.
In response to these revelations, Prime Minister Harper, who appointed Wallin to the senate in 2009, has made concerted efforts to distance himself from the embattled senator.
Under questioning in the House of Commons on March 3, Harper insisted there was no evidence the Conservatives had received funds from Wallin.
“Upon discovering that these expenses were not proper and correct, this party has taken the appropriate action,” said Prime Minister Harper.
“Ms. Wallin has not been a member of this caucus for two years and she is going to face full accountability for her actions”.
Wallin, who has not yet been charged and denies any wrongdoing, was removed from the Conservative caucus in May of 2013 and currently remains suspended without pay from the senate.
Although the damage has already been done, as the RCMP deepens its fraud and breach of trust investigation, the big question for Wallin now is just how many more allegations are there she’ll have to file under ‘clerical errors’.