David St. Denis insists he’s not an embezzler. But having apparently absconded with incriminating paperwork, he may have a tough time convincing a court as much. St. Denis for four years had been financial secretary of Local 1959 of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), an affiliate of the United Auto Workers. He’s been charged with fraud in the amount of more than $20,000 from the Windsor, Ontario union. “Nothing went missing,” he stated at his trial that began on May 11. “I did not take any money.” Unfortunately, the original evidence is “missing.”
Canadian prosecutors (i.e., “the Crown”) have charged St. Denis, 48, with two counts of fraud. In trial proceedings, the former union official tried to obtain a stay of all charges against him, claiming he was unable to defend himself without the original documents in his possession. For about six months until his departure from the union in the summer of 2004, St. Denis allegedly diverted checks totaling $13,000, plus another check made out to St. Denis’ bank Visa account in an amount exceeding $9,000. The Crown accuses St. Denis of forging the signature of Local 1959 Vice-President Satish Shonek. It’s one man’s word against the other. Shonek denies signing the checks; St. Denis denies forging them.
St. Denis’ defense lawyer, Patrick Ducharme, said the photocopied checks, copied from microfiche at the Windsor Family Credit Union, were of such poor quality that they could not be analyzed by handwriting experts. The defendant claims everything was in good order when he resigned and that he stored the evidence in the union hall basement. But why didn’t he aid in the search for the original documents, as requested in a December 2004 letter from the union? St. Denis stated that union officials “were looking for a lynch,” and “for somebody to blame something on.” He elaborated: “I would not step into that local for fear, basically, of my life. They had already smeared my name all over the place,” adding someone planted a bomb in his car that failed to detonate only because the wires weren’t grounded. St. Denis said he met accusers Local President William Wark and Trustee Herman Van Grinsven on June 9, 2005, who showed him a packet of photocopied checks with his signature totaling $12,992.20. Wark eventually went to the police, and St. Denis would be arrested in October 2006.
Yet Wark’s testimony paints a different picture. He said that after assuming the duties of financial secretary following St. Denis’ departure, he went into the latter’s office and found all six filing cabinets empty and St. Denis’ old office bare. He had to recreate the local’s financial records by requesting photocopies of cancelled checks. Another possible source of incrimination is that the court replayed nine phone messages St. Denis had left on the union office voice mail system. In at least one of them he offered to “repay” the sum of $12,992.20. Wark said the found the figure interesting since the cancelled checks they’d received up to that point amounted to only about $10,000. “How can somebody come up with a number down to the penny when they don’t have any records?” Defense lawyer Ducharme suggested the phone messages showed his client’s fear of Wark’s threats. Wark, in turn, denied ever making threats.
Regardless of who’s telling the truth, Canadian Auto Workers Local 1959, which represents workers for Canadian Salt Company, is a corrupt union. Either St. Denis is a thief or Wark and his allies are thugs. The trial, which does not involve a jury, reportedly is in recess and will resume in September. One way or another, the answer will come out. (Windsor Star, 5/11/09; 5/13/09).