Fitz admits guilt: CASA trial ends, sentence to come
By Sandra Dimitrakopoulos
In a trial which ended soon after it began, Patrick FitzPatrick entered a guilty plea in defrauding the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations for an amount not exceeding $5,000 in a Fredricton, New Brunswick courtroom yesterday.
Three years ago, FitzPatrick was made acting national director of CASA when then-director Alex Usher took a leave of absence for nine weeks because he was suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. It was during this time CASA alleges FitzPatrick spent over $10,000 on a New Brunswick conference for CASA which never occurred.
Usher returned to work on Jan. 8 1995, immediately relieving FitzPatrick of his duties and soon after, CASA and the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police launched a full investigation. By Jan. 18 all documents were made public.
Forged cheques, large sums of money spent on stationary, misappropriated funds and general bad decisions made by FitzPatrick were listed as some of the many sources of fraud, said Rahim Rajpar, a former member of CASA's board of directors.
Rajpar was also VP-student issues for Western's University Students' Council, which has been a member of CASA since 1995, during the time FitzPatrick was director.
The federal lobby group was ultimately held responsible for the debt incurred as a result of FitzPatrick's expenditures, Rajpar said. "As a director [FitzPatrick] should be liable for this."
Current CASA national director Hoops Harrison said the organization thinks the fraud was over $5,000, adding they believe the criminal activity occurred in both New Brunswick and Ontario, but has yet to decide if they will pursue legal action for the amount which is still outstanding. "There is another portion of the defrauded amount in Ontario," Harrison said.
The three witnesses, including Usher, former CASA executive assistant Irving Gold and Rajpar, were notified prior to yesterday's court date that they would not have to appear in court after all.
A previous trial date had been set for early September but it was postponed when FitzPatrick fired his lawyer three days before he was to go to court.
FitzPatrick has been charged with fraud under section 380 (1)(b)(i) of the Criminal Code of Canada which holds a maximum jail sentence of two years. However, Western clinical legal services director Michael Cormier said if this is a first offense, FitzPatrick will probably just have to pay a fine.
Yet Cormier said fraud charges are considered moderately serious by judges who see this type of criminal behaviour as pre-mediated which is made worse by the fact these individuals are generally in a position of trust.
FitzPatrick could not be reached for comment.
"When a leader is accused of a wrong-doing it negatively affects CASA and all student organizations," said Western's USC VP-student issues Sam Castiglione.
A pre-sentence report including FitzPatrick's family background and previous criminal behaviour will be compiled by the probation office and crown prosecutor to be given to the judge on April 28 for sentencing.