N.S. auditor probes deeper, looks for illegalities in politicians expenses

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HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's auditor general will conduct a forensic investigation into the spending habits of some provincial politicians based on new information that he says raises concerns about possible illegalities.
Jacques Lapointe issued a statement Friday saying he is following up on some of the questionable transactions he flagged in an bombshell audit his office released last week.
The audit, which covered from July 2006 to last June, prompted public outrage because it cited numerous examples of inappropriate or excessive spending and the need to clean up vague rules and inadequate oversight.
"The new evidence we had meant that this wasn't finished," Lapointe said in an interview. "This is a case of looking at specific events and transactions and seeing whether or not there may be illegalities involved in some of them."
If the investigation uncovers evidence of potential illegal activity, the findings would be turned over to law enforcement officials who would then determine whether charges should be laid.
Lapointe said the new information he received came from the public and the media, but he declined to elaborate.
While a typical audit focuses on verifying rule compliance and value for money, a forensic audit zeros in on specific transactions, he said.
Lapointe wouldn't say how many members of the legislature are involved in the probe, but he confirmed there are more than one.
The original audit, the first of its kind in 15 years, revealed members of the legislature used taxpayers' money to buy custom-made furniture, renovations, a video game, cameras, big-screen TVs, an espresso maker, laptops and other items the auditor deemed too expensive or inappropriate.
Former Conservative cabinet minister Richard Hurlburt quit politics Tuesday after it was revealed he spent $2,400 on a LCD television and $8,000 on a generator that was installed at his home in Yarmouth.
He initially defended the purchase, saying the generator could be used in an emergency at a nearby seniors' residence. But staff at the facility later confirmed they already had one.
Former Tory cabinet minister Len Goucher spent $43,982 during his three years in the legislature - the most of any member. The purchases included 11 computers, 12 printers and four video recorders between 2006 and 2009.
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter has pledged to introduce rule changes that will tighten controls on how politicians spend public money.
However, the NDP premier has also said he doesn't see the need for a public inquiry, saying he's focused on fixing the system rather than casting a wider net.
Lapointe said his investigation will likely take a few weeks to complete.
"You don't have a plan," he said. "You go into it to see what you will find. ... This is not a broad investigation."
The auditor general also said he was surprised by the amount of media attention and public debate sparked by his original findings.

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Yarmouth

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