TC • MEDIA
Former Yarmouth MLA Richard Hurlburt left the Yarmouth courthouse on Friday morning not a free man, but not going to jail either.
Instead Hurlburt has been sentenced to 12 months of house arrest after pleading guilty to one count of fraud over $5,000 and one count of breach of trust involving $25,320.77 of fraudulent expense claims he filed while he was an MLA.
Hurlburt has also been ordered to perform 200 hours of community service and will serve a 12-month probation period at the completion of his house arrest.
When Supreme Court Justice David MacAdam delivered his sentence on Friday morning, July 27, family, friends and supporters of Hurlburt who were inside the courtroom exhaled in relief over the fact he had been spared a jail sentence.
“He’s okay, no jail,” whispered one person inside the courtroom. “Phew,” responded another.
As part of his house arrest sentence Hurlburt has been ordered by the court to be at his residence 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He is to be either inside his residence or no more than 100 feet, or 30 metres, away from his home. The Crown had sought a condition that would not have allowed Hurlburt to be outside his home at all.
There are court conditions, however, that will allow Hurlburt to be away from his residence during his one year of house arrest. These are the standard conditions that are included in conditional sentence orders and they will allow Hurlburt to be absent from his residence for medical appointments or family medical emergencies, for employment, for appointments with his lawyer and when he is performing community service. He must advise his court supervisor when he will be absent from his home.
He is also allowed to attend to personal needs once a week, for no more than five hours, on a day and time approved by his supervisor.
Outside the courtroom Hurlburt spoke very briefly to the media, saying, “The courts made their decision and I respect the court’s decision today and I will abide by everything the court has laid out to me and my goal now is to show my love back to my wife, my family and my friends and my community and help rebuild my community.”
He did not answer any media questions.
In April Hurlburt, who had served as an MLA for the Progressive Conservatives, had pleaded guilty to two charges stemming from an investigation into an MLA expense scandal. Three charges of uttering forged documents were withdrawn.
According to an agreed statement of facts presented in court on July 5, Hurlburt had submitted four invoices as part of his constituency expense claims for expenses that were not incurred as constituency expenses. The receipts totalled $25,320.77 and included an invoice of $3,508.92 for a 40-inch television that was installed in his home and an invoice for a $9,034.35 generator that had not been purchased. A less expensive generator was later installed in Hurlburt’s home, which he claimed was for the use of the community in instances of power outages.
There were also expense claims submitted in December 2007 and 2008 totalling $12,777.50 for renovations to his constituency office that never occurred.
The Crown had been seeking a jail sentence of nine to 12 months in jail. The defence had suggested a nine-month conditional sentence and 200 hundred hours of house arrest.
Justice MacAdam spoke at great length in the courtroom about whether a conditional sentence, as opposed to a jail sentence, would be appropriate in this case. The judge said the amount of money that was part of the fraudulent expense claims that Hurlburt had submitted were not an insignificant amount and that the claims were submitted over a number of years.
But the judge said Hurlburt’s case differed from that of former Liberal MLA Dave Wilson, who was sentenced to nine months in jail after admitting to defrauding taxpayers of $61,000. Wilson was feeding a gambling addiction, however Wilson, Justice MacAdam noted, dragged other innocent people into his fraud by putting their names on receipts.
Also, Hurlburt’s case, the judge said, did not involve the same aggravated factors as other cases of fraud that have involved sentences of incarceration.
“There is no evidence that he bribed anyone or involved anyone else in the fraudulent activity,” said Justice MacAdam. “He resigned shortly after the release of the auditor’s report, a year before charges were brought against him. He issued repeated public apologies. He has taken full responsibility for his actions.”
The judge also said that Hurlburt had reimbursed the money he had been paid through his fraudulent claims, although the judge also said it was worth noting that Hurlburt had the financial means to do this, whereas not everyone else necessarily would. Therefore, the judge said the reimbursement was not a mitigating factor in his sentencing decision.
The judge referred to a pre-sentence report in which the people interviewed had indicated that the crimes Hurlburt had committed were out of character. One person interviewed said Hurlburt was embarrassed to leave his home but that he still wants to continue to be involved in his community and give back to it.
Hurlburt was told by the judge that if he breaches any of the conditions set out by the court he will be charged and could face the possibility of having to serve the remainder of his sentence in jail.