It’ll be nearly summer before Todd Cowan will find out his fate after Justice Michael Epstein reserved a June 15 date for a decision on charges of fraud and breach of trust against former Woolwich mayor Todd Cowan. The trial wrapped up closing arguments Monday morning in a Kitchener courtroom.
On the fourth and final day of trial Feb. 29, prosecutor Jennifer Caskie reminded the judge of the documents Cowan falsified, which the defense is claiming was inadvertent.
“The evidence is damning,” Caskie said.
Charges of fraud under $5,000 and breach of trust were laid a year ago after members of the Ontario Provincial Police Anti-Rackets Branch investigated claims Cowan had billed more than $2,700 in expenses to both the township and Region of Waterloo. He paid back the double reimbursements once the issue was brought to light and admitted he was responsible from the outset.
“Upon realization of the overpayment Cowan immediately makes good for what occurred. He saw his error,” defense lawyer Thomas Brock said.
The defense is riding on the argument that there was no intent to double bill the region and the township and instead that Cowan was disorganized and “had too much on his plate.”
Cowan had meals with his girlfriend at the time in Ottawa during the 2013 Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference, which he had expensed to the township, claiming they were had with other political figures like Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris and Brant County Mayor Ron Eddy.
Earlier in the trial Eddy testified he was not one to have breakfasts at conferences and he had not dined with Cowan at all, despite a receipt claimed by Cowan for two breakfast buffets with a notation resembling R. Eddy.
Caskie noted that Harris said he had only ever dined with Cowan within the riding, contrary to another receipt that Cowan claimed with Harris’ name attached to it.
“It’s not like Mr. Harris testified they’d had a different meal at the conference. It’s my submission he clearly was having another meal with his girlfriend and was trying to justify township expenses and the use of his corporate credit card,” Caskie said.
The total amount he double billed was $2,770.68.
“There is no way he didn’t know he was being doubly compensated. It’s unreasonable to say he didn’t know,” Caskie said.
She says he would have been reviewing his township and region documents at the same time and it would have been obvious he was submitting expenses for the same mileage or events twice. This indicates he had fraudulent intentions, she proposed.
“This is not someone who’s making honest mistakes,” Caskie said.
Brock had argued that Cowan’s lack of attention to detail and poor organization are to blame, along with confusing expense policies and Cowan’s own personal matters he was dealing with at the time.
“His assertion that he was tardy with bookkeeping is just not borne out in the evidence,” Caskie said.
For example, a regional expense statement submitted for February 2012 was paid out on Mar. 1. Same for the township.
“For the most part they’re on time so that can’t be his excuse for being late because it’s simply not the case,” Caskie said.
The evidence shows he’s actually quite diligent with bookkeeping.
When Colleen Sargeant James, regional council assistant, emailed Cowan to let him know he wouldn’t be able to claim valet parking, but instead just the regular daily rate at the hotel he was staying at, he responded just 13 minutes later with, “Cool. Have they been submitted?”
“Given those timelines … it’s not possible or reasonable to think he didn’t know he was getting money from both,” Caskie argued.
She said if he was a sloppy accountant he would have not confirmed the expenses had been submitted, been tardy to reply, or not replied at all.
She also mentioned that the only receipts for meals that he submitted that have notations on them are the ones he falsified.
“He knew he was benefitting and hoped he wouldn’t be found out,” Caskie said.
The defense maintains he was not trying to be fraudulent and was unclear about the expense policies.
“It was not unusual for Cowan to represent the township and the region’s interests at the same function,” Brock said.
He noted Cowan was quick to admit he submitted duplicate expense claims when interviewed by township CAO David Brenneman when the double reimbursement first came to light.
“His error resulted from inadvertence, error resulted from lack of organization, error resulted from perhaps too much on his plate, error resulted from lack of experience. His error resulted from perhaps personal things going on his life. But not error resulting from a fraudulent type of act. He wasn’t trying to be deceitful. He wasn’t trying to be dishonest,” Brock said.
Maintaining expense reports require attention to detail and organization, neither of which Cowan has Brock claims.
“This was the first time he was mayor. This was the first time he sat on regional council. He was very busy,” Brock said.
He also mentioned Cowan may have dyslexia or ADHD, which former Woolwich councillor Bonnie Bryant mentioned in her testimony. But Justice Epstein waved those off due to lack of sufficient evidence.
“You want to be clear about that. There’s no direct evidence,” Epstein said.
The judge’s decision will come down to whether there was actus reus, or intent.
The prosecution is asking Cowan be convicted on both charges.
Epstein said he will give the case all the time he can in the months to come. He will make his decision on June 15.