ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — A former high-ranking Newfoundland and Labrador cabinet minister was sentenced Friday to two years less a day in jail for defrauding taxpayers of nearly $118,000.
Earlier this year, Ed Byrne pleaded guilty to fraud over $5,000 and influence peddling for his role in the province’s constituency allowance spending scandal.
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Before he was sentenced, Byrne expressed remorse.
“I want to deeply and sincerely apologize to the public for my actions,” he said in court.
“This has been an excruciating 34 months.”
Provincial court Judge Mark Pike called Byrne’s actions “highly reprehensible.”
“This fraud and bribery was committed by someone in a position of public trust,” Pike said.
“Byrne used his position to carry out these abusive and fraudulent activities.”
According to an agreed statement of facts, Byrne submitted falsified and forged expense claims from 1998 to 2004.
The documents say he also paid a former provincial legislature official $18,000 in personal cheques in exchange for a benefit during that time.
The Crown had asked Pike to impose a jail sentence of less than two years, arguing that Byrne violated his position as an elected official.
But Byrne’s defence lawyer argued his 45-year-old client should be spared jail because he has lost his family, his career and his public reputation.
Byrne was once the natural resources minister in the cabinet of Premier Danny Williams, overseeing the province’s burgeoning energy sector.
But he abruptly quit politics in 2007, and months later was charged after the provincial auditor general’s investigation into constituency allowance spending.
The former Tory member of the legislature is one of five men charged in the spending scandal.
Provincial auditor general John Noseworthy alleged that Byrne had overspent $467,653 from his constituency allowance account — more than five times the approved limit.
The Crown is seeking $117,812 in restitution, the figure agreed upon by the Crown and defence in the agreed statement of facts. His lawyer has said Byrne intends to repay that amount.
Byrne submitted fake receipts and invoices with the names of nephews, political party staff, volunteers and several businesses in order to receive that money, according to the agreed statement of facts.
It’s not known how Byrne spent all of those funds, but some of that money paid for a bar tab at a wedding, a barbecue and building supplies.
The tax-free constituency allowances are normally used to pay for expenses incurred while conducting constituency duties, including office rent, equipment, supplies and secretarial services.