Forgery charges dog Grit

A former Liberal youth wing president fights charges he bilked the party of thousands

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Accompanied by his father, Jesse Davidson, the fresh-faced, 20-something former president of the Ontario Young Liberals, looked oddly out of place among the assorted toughs in a College Park courtroom Monday.

But there he was, neck craned with the look of a kid taking in a scene at the zoo, to set a date on fraud and forgery charges related to allegations that he bilked the Liberal party of more than $10,000 while presiding over its youth wing.

There are 24 charges in all — one count of fraud over $5,000 and 23 counts alleging that Davidson drew money from the party’s bank account by forging the signature of a former treasurer.

There’s the suggestion, too, from sources in the party, that higher-ups wanted to keep the whole thing quiet, all in the Liberal family, so to speak.

Real keener

Outside the court, Davidson’s lawyer, William McDowell, declines to comment except to offer that Davidson plans to plead not guilty and be “completely exonerated.” Davidson himself did not return a call requesting comment.

How did a super-enthusiastic keener who was barely out of junior high when he got his start as a volunteer with the party get himself into this mess?

According to documents leaked to NOW, Davidson’s troubles began when Amy Young, a former vice-president of the Ontario Young Liberals (OYL), raised concerns in a letter about some 33 cheques dating back to April 98 being improperly drawn against the OYL account.

Young states in her letter that almost all the cheques in question had been made payable to Davidson or his Market 2000 Internet Marketing company, without the OYL’s approval.

And, in the case of 20 of the cheques, the signature of then OYL treasurer Anthony Romanelli had been forged.

The OYL executive met in April to question Davidson. Financial records were requested of all board members, and a resolution was passed asking Davidson to step aside as president until an outside auditor could be appointed to clear up the matter.

According to the minutes of a subsequent OYL meeting, Davidson claimed that he was counselled to draw a salary of $5,000 directly from the OYL account.

When the OYL asked party headquarters for confirmation, higher- ups including Liberal party financial administrator David Pretlove reported having no knowledge of anyone authorizing a salary for Davidson, according to the minutes.

Party bigwig

Davidson enlisted the legal help of former provincial party president Tim Murphy, a lawyer at McCarthy Tetrault.

Shortly thereafter, lawyer Jack Siegel, a long-time bigwig in the party, was called by federal party president Brenda Kurczak and provincial party president Greg Sorbara to conduct an internal review.

In Siegel’s review, the particulars of which are contained in a 15-page report, Davidson admits to no wrongdoing.

“It is important to note that forgery is an offence that requires not only making of a false document, but also an intent that it be used to the prejudice of another person,” Siegel writes in his report. “In this situation, there appears to be no prejudice resulting to anyone.”

Siegel goes on to write that “in general terms… almost every one of the cheques in question appears to have a reasonable explanation.” Davidson claims the cheques paid for services rendered by his Internet company to the OYL.

But “neither the OYL executive committee nor the OYL board has ever approved a budget, or any expenses that would justify the amounts of the cheques written,” according to a letter by former OYL vice-president Amy Young mentioned in Siegel’s review.

Siegel nevertheless recommends that the OYL not pursue criminal charges in the matter.

While Siegel concludes that Davidson “is at minimum responsible for some of the most gross errors of political and financial judgment that I have personally seen in 30 years,” and chastises the former Grit president for his lavish spending on the party’s expense account, his report concludes on the forgery allegations that Davidson’s “errors are errors of youth and perhaps indolence.”

Under wraps

But party insiders say higher-ups were trying to sweep the matter under the rug.

Ontario Liberal part president Greg Sorbara denies that there was an attempt to keep the affair under wraps.

And Siegel declined to comment. About all he would offer is that he has known Davidson since 1983. Both have been active in the Don Valley West riding. Davidson is scheduled to appear in court next month.

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