Former legislature clerk charged with fraud and breach of trust

Craig James, the former clerk of the Legislative Assembly of B.C., has been charged with four counts of breach of trust by a public officer and two counts of fraud in excess of $5,000.

The charges, sworn Thursday in Vancouver by an agent of the B.C. attorney general, allege that James used his position to advance his own personal interests over the public good between Sept. 10, 2011, and Nov. 21, 2018. The charges are in connection with travel expenses, a cash award for long service and the purchase of a wood ­splitter and trailer.

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James made his first ­appearance by video Friday morning at the Victoria courthouse. He has been ordered to have his fingerprints and photograph taken, not to go to the legislature and to have no contact with 57 named people.

His next appearance has been set for Jan. 27. The case is ­proceeding by way of direct indictment, which means ­without a preliminary inquiry.

It’s alleged that between Sept. 10, 2011 and Feb. 28, 2013, James committed breach of trust by using his position to improperly obtain and keep a long-service award in the amount of $257,988.38.

James is also charged with breach of trust in connection with the purchase and use of a wood splitter and trailer paid for with public funds between Sept. 1, 2017 and Dec. 8, 2018.

James is charged with fraud over $5,000 in connection with the purchase of the trailer and wood splitter.

It’s also alleged James ­committed breach of trust by knowingly submitting travel expense claims for, and receiving reimbursement for, personal travel expenditures between Nov. 1, 2013 and Sept. 30, 2018.

Finally, James is charged with defrauding the province of more than $5,000 by making fraudulent travel expense claims.

The charges arise from an RCMP investigation. On Nov. 20, 2018, assistant deputy attorney general Peter Juk appointed special prosecutors Brock Martland and David Butcher to provide legal advice to the RCMP and to assume conduct of the prosecution if charges were approved.

British Columbia appoints special prosecutors from outside government in cases where there is a significant potential for real or perceived improper political influence on the administration of criminal justice.

Typically, they are appointed when politicians are under a police investigation.

In November 2018, James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz were suspended from their high-ranking positions and escorted off the legislature grounds by Victoria police.

The MLAs who voted to ­suspend them learned the two had been under a criminal investigation for matters directly related to their administrative duties, and that the RCMP had approached the B.C. Prosecution Service in late September asking for a special prosecutor to assess any charges that arise.

In January 2019, Speaker Darryl Plecas released a report alleging that James and Lenz, a former RCMP officer, spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on lavish trips, clothing and personal expenses. It was alleged that James bought a $3,000 wood splitter with public money and kept it at his home.

In May 2019, retired Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin released an independent report into the allegations of misconduct against the two senior legislature officers. She cleared Lenz, but found James engaged in misconduct. She substantiated four of five allegations against James, finding he used public money to buy expensive suits and luggage for personal use, removed alcohol from the legislature and made personal use of a wood-splitter bought with public funds.

McLachlin also found James engaged in wrongdoing by accepting a $257,988 payout from a retirement benefit in 2012, despite the fact he never retired.

James resigned in May 2019, saying he decided to do so because he had had enough of being “publicly ridiculed and vilified.”

“When the Speaker’s allegations were finally disclosed to me, I had much to say about them,” he said in a statement. “I provided detailed written submissions and supporting documents, all of which are in the possession of the Legislative Assembly, many of which are not referred to or addressed in the Special Investigator’s Report, and almost none of which are likely known to the public or the press at this time.”

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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