CASA court date Tuesday
By Sandra Dimitrakopoulos
Almost three years to the day legal proceedings began, Patrick Fitzpatrick will appear in court to defend allegations of fraudulent behaviour against the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations the federal lobby group of which Western undergraduate students are members.
The Fredricton trial, set for Jan. 27, will attempt to examine expenses incurred during a period in which Fitzpatrick was acting national director for CASA, replacing Alex Usher who was ill with chronic fatigue syndrome.
During the nine weeks Usher was absent, Fitzpatrick was in charge of a CASA conference in New Brunswick but when the conference never came to fruition despite expenses over $7,000, members began to ask questions, Usher said.
When Usher returned to work Jan. 8 of 1995, he immediately relieved Fitzpatrick of his duties while calling for a full investigation into the matter followed by police and finally legal involvement. By Jan. 18 of the same year, the financial documents had been made public.
But there were worries CASA's reputation had already been ruined in addition to having over a third of its cash flow jeopardized, Usher said. "There was a point when we didn't think we were going to survive this both politically and economically."
Rahim Rajpar, former VP-student issues for Western's University Students' Council and member of CASA's board of directors, is scheduled to testify as a key witness because he remained a constant member of CASA's board during the time Fitzpatrick held office despite other board members who resigned.
A previous court date had been set in early September but the weekend before the trial Fitzpatrick fired his lawyer and asked for a six-month extension, Rajpar said. "[The lawyer] probably told him to plead guilty [Fitzpatrick] knew if he fired the lawyer it would be a delay tactic."
Rumours of the money being spent in strange and mysterious ways such as over $3,000 on stationary have continued to circle until the present time, said present CASA national director Hoops Harrison. "The court case is not about the fact money was spent but how the money was spent."
A budget of $10,000 was set aside for the conference with set guidelines in place as to how money is supposed to be spent, Harrison said, adding there were no checks or balances made on the expenditures because Usher was absent until early January.
Although Fitzpatrick was not available for comment, the sentence for fraud carries a penalty of seven to 10 years in jail and parties involved feel confident he will be convicted of charges laid against him. "The gut feeling is that most people see this as a done deal," Usher said.