ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — The only public servant charged in Newfoundland and Labrador’s political spending scandal has pleaded guilty to fraud and influence peddling.
Bill Murray pleaded guilty Tuesday to a charge of fraud over $5,000 and three counts of influence peddling. Three other charges of fraud and breach of trust were withdrawn in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Murray, 55, is the former financial director of the provincial legislature. He oversaw spending from the taxpayer-funded constituency allowances of provincial politicians.
The defence and the Crown presented a joint recommendation for a sentence of two years in prison, plus two years’ probation, and restitution of $177,000.
The judge has scheduled sentencing for Feb. 22.
According to an agreed statement of facts presented in court Tuesday, Murray admitted that he hid overpayments to four former politicians in his official spending reports to the legislature.
Those payments went to former Liberal cabinet ministers Jim Walsh and Wally Andersen, former Conservative leader and cabinet minister Ed Byrne, and ex-NDP member Randy Collins.
Walsh, Andersen, Byrne, and Collins were sent to jail for bogus expenses and overspending. Byrne and Andersen have since been released on conditions.
Asked why he would do this, the statement of facts says: “William Murray explained that the members put him on such a high pedestal he started enjoying it, stating: ’Maybe the ego was there, and I just wanted it to stay there.’ ”
Murray also had “a serious gambling problem and any monies he received were going directly into feeding that habit,” says the statement of facts.
Crown attorney Frances Knickle said it’s estimated Murray accepted about $400,000 in kickbacks, though it’s impossible to completely trace the cash now.
Murray pumped most of that money into video lottery terminals, Knickle said.
Murray was suspended in 2006 when the provincial auditor general flagged overpayments and irregular spending.
At Walsh’s trial, Murray testified that he accepted bribes from Walsh.
Walsh was convicted last month of fraud and breach of trust. He was acquitted on a charge of frauds on government, also known as influence peddling.
Provincial Judge David Orr said Murray’s testimony alleging kickbacks was not backed up by a more credible witness.
According to evidence presented at Walsh’s trial, Murray kept constituency expense claims on his own computer. Neither the clerk nor other legislature staff had access to those documents, court heard.
The provincial auditor general’s report raised questions about invoices paid by Murray to local companies that produced baubles and trinkets.
These included Unique Keepsakes, a company Murray owned.
The auditor general highlighted $2.65 million in public money paid to the companies for gold rings, decorative plates and magnets.