YARMOUTH, N.S. - A former Nova Scotia cabinet minister who bilked the province of more than $25,000 was sentenced Friday to a year of house arrest after the judge presiding over his case concluded his crimes weren't serious enough to warrant a jail term.
Richard Hurlburt left the courtroom saying he would now devote his time to his family and the town of Yarmouth, an area he represented for more than a decade in the provincial legislature before he abruptly quit public life amid allegations of fraud.
"I respect the court's decision today and I will abide by everything the court has laid out to me," he said.
"My goal now is to show my love back to my wife, my family and my friends ... and help rebuild my community."
Hurlburt, 62, pleaded guilty in April to charges of fraud and breach of trust in the province's constituency spending scandal.
The former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister defrauded the public purse of $25,321 between December 2006 and December 2008, according to an agreed statement of facts entered in the province's Supreme Court.
He submitted false claims including one for a $9,000 generator that wasn't bought, court heard. He was also given more than $3,500 for the purchase and installation of a 40-inch LCD television at his home.
Before he was charged last year, Hurlburt initially defended the generator as a valid expense, saying it could be used by a nearby seniors' home and ground search and rescue teams in emergencies. Court later heard he bought a cheaper generator and had it installed at his home.
Still, Judge David MacAdam said a jail sentence would have been inappropriate, given the circumstances of Hurlburt's case.
"I am satisfied there are no aggravating circumstances other than abuse of public trust," MacAdam said.
"The amount involved is substantially less than the amounts for which others have been sentenced to jail."
Hurlburt is the second former politician to plead guilty in the province's spending scandal after Dave Wilson admitted to defrauding taxpayers of $61,000 to feed a gambling addiction. The former Liberal was sentenced in April to nine months in jail.
MacAdam said unlike Wilson, who falsely claimed he paid five people for constituency work when he actually deposited the money in his own account, Hurlburt's actions didn't involve others.
Hurlburt must remain within about 30 metres of his lakefront home, though he will be allowed to leave for work and medical appointments. He is also required to complete 200 hours of community service and faces a year of probation following his house arrest.
As he left the courthouse with his wife, Nancy, she offered a brief response to his sentence.
Defence lawyer Stan MacDonald, who had argued for a nine-month conditional sentence and 200 hours of community work, said he was satisfied with MacAdam's ruling.
"It's essentially what we were looking for," MacDonald said.
"Mr. Hurlburt is not a danger to the community. This is an appropriate case to have a conditional sentence."
Crown lawyer Andrew Macdonald had recommended a sentence of between nine and 12 months in jail, but he said he believed the judge had fairly weighed the evidence before him.
"Justice MacAdam was alive to the relevant principles at play and he crafted a sentence which he felt was appropriate in the circumstances," he said.
Two other spending scandal cases are still winding their way through the Nova Scotia courts.
Russell MacKinnon, a former Liberal cabinet minister, has pleaded not guilty to fraud, breach of trust and uttering forged documents. His trial is set to begin in March.
Independent member Trevor Zinck, who is charged with fraud over $5,000, breach of trust and theft over $5,000, has yet to enter a plea. His case has been adjourned until September.
Nova Scotia's constituency expense scandal broke about five years after another one erupted in Newfoundland and Labrador. Those cases ended with four politicians, a senior civil servant and a businessman sentenced to jail time.
Hurlburt was first elected to the legislature in 1999 and served as the province's minister of energy and natural resources. He resigned from politics in 2010.