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Cowan trial on hold until February

Todd Cowan

After week in which witnesses refuted former mayor’s expense claims, closing arguments set for Feb. 29.

Witnesses at Todd Cowan’s trial last week testified at least three meals he claimed as township expenses never occurred with the parties the former Woolwich mayor listed on the receipts.

We won’t have a verdict until next year in Cowan’s  trial as counsel asked for an additional date in order to do closing submissions. All the witnesses have been called and the earliest date they could get for Kitchener court was Feb. 29. It’s unclear if the judge will reach a verdict the same day.

Cowan will not testify. He has yet to speak in court except to plead not guilty to both charges of fraud and breach of trust.

Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris took the stand Nov. 26 in regards to a receipt Cowan expensed for a meal he said was had with Harris at the 2013 Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Ottawa.

Prosecutor Jennifer Caskie asked if he had conversations with Cowan at that conference.

“Oh I’m sure we did, absolutely,” Harris said.

Caskie questioned Harris about a receipt that Cowan had submitted as an expense claim for Aug. 17, 2013 for $44.34. The receipt was for a meal of two pints of Labatt Blue beer, two pints of Budweiser beer, chicken quesadillas, and nachos. There was a handwritten notation with the name, Harris.

“Did you have that meeting with Mr. Cowan?” asked Caskie.

“I did not,” Harris replied.

She asked Harris about another meal receipt submitted by Cowan, this one for breakfast of $35.44.

“No I wasn’t even in Ottawa at that time. I didn’t get there until Sunday,” Harris said.

She asked Harris if he ever had a meal with Cowan.

“I had breakfast one morning in the same restaurant, but not together. I don’t believe we ever dined together,” Harris said.

“I believe he was with his partner at the time, his girlfriend,” Harris said.

Harris also noted there’s no mechanism for members of provincial parliament, like himself, to expense meals of guests outside of the assembly. Cowan was granted a corporate credit card by the township when he was elected as mayor in 2010, the first township employee to receive one.

In cross examination, defense attorney  Thomas Brock asked Harris about the dinner meal Cowan claimed he had with Harris.

“What did you do for dinner that night?” Brock asked.

“I believe I was with my wife,” Harris said, restating he didn’t arrive in Ottawa for the conference until Sunday, after the alleged meal between them had taken place on Saturday.

Ronald Earl Foster Eddy, mayor of Brant County, also testified in relation to a breakfast receipt Cowan had expensed.

Caskie asked Eddy when he’d been introduced to Cowan.

“I would say five years ago at a provincial Western Ontario municipalities conference in London, Ontario,” Eddy said.

He said they interacted three or four times at most. He confirmed he was at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference in 2013 because he’s on the board of directors.

Eddy described his interactions with Cowan as “casual conversations.”

Caskie presented a receipt from Aug. 20, 2013 for $61.37 that Cowan had submitted as an expense claim, with a handwritten notation that looked like R. Eddy. The meal was for two breakfast buffets at Daly’s in the Westin in Ottawa.

“Did you have that meal?” Caskie asked.

“I have no recollection of having had that meal,” Eddy answered.

When asked, Eddy said Cowan didn’t pay for any of Eddy’s meals at the conference.

Caskie asked if he had any recollection of having one on one meals with Cowan at the conference.

“No I do not,” Eddy said.

“When you say ‘I have no recollection of any particular dinner,’ in part that is due to the fact you meet so many people at these conferences. … Is that a fair assumption?” Brock asked in cross examination.

“Correct,” Eddy said.

Brock said just because Eddy doesn’t recall the breakfast doesn’t mean it didn’t happen for sure.

“I’m not in the habit of attending breakfasts,” Eddy replied.

“If it represented a lunch or afternoon snack or dinner, it’s quite possible you could have recollected it?” Brock asked.

“I think I would have had recollected somewhat,” Eddy said.

Cowan was charged with fraud under $5,000 and breach of trust for double billing more than $2,700 in expenses to both the township and Region of Waterloo, which he paid back once the issue was brought to light. The charges were laid on Feb. 6 after members of the Ontario Provincial Police Anti-Rackets Branch investigated the allegations.

There were six double reimbursements between January 2012 and February 2014 found in the subsequent review.

The defense is seeking to prove there was no intent to double bill the two parties, rather it was poor bookkeeping on Cowan’s part.

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