The 2012 Michener Award finalists talk about their award winning stories and the people who helped make them happen – Michener Awards Ceremony, June 18, 2013.
Reporter Tim Bousquet describes the Coast’s investigation into Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly’s controversial handling of an estate for which he was executor.
Your Excellencies, Chief Justice, Parliamentarians, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Peter Kelly was the popular, three-term mayor of Halifax. All expectations were that he would easily win reelection to a fourth term in 2012.
In 2011, I discovered Mayor Kelly’s role in the estate of a family friend, a woman named Mary Thibeault, who died in 2004, when she was 91 years old.
In her will, Mrs. Thibeault named Mayor Kelly as the executor of her estate, valued at about $650,000. By law, such estates are to be resolved within 18 months, but in 2011, more than six years had passed, and still Mayor Kelly had not fulfilled his obligations.
I wrote a short article in The Coast about the estate in March of that year, but it went nowhere. No other media outlet picked up the story, and the public seemed disinterested.
But the unanswered questions nagged at me. I couldn’t let the story go. Over the next 11 months, I attempted to contact each of the heirs. I talked with people who knew Mrs. Thibeault when she was alive. I scoured public records both here in Canada and in two US states, where Mrs. Thibeault wintered. I interviewed probate lawyers, and learned more about probate law than any sane person should ever have to. I shook every tree I could find, hoping that something would fall out.
To make a very long story short, I eventually obtained Mrs. Thibeault’s bank records, and I was able to document how Mayor Kelly had secretly removed over $160,000 from Mrs. Thibeault’s estate, at one point writing himself a cheque for $100,000, with another $15,000 cheque made out to his son Craig.
After removing the money from the estate, Mayor Kelly filed documents with the probate court that failed to account for the money he had transferred to himself. Seven years had passed, but five charities named in Mrs. Thibeault’s will had not received a single dime of the hundreds of thousands of dollars they were entitled to.
Writing “A Trust Betrayed” was an exhaustive process, taking over two months. My editor, Kyle Shaw, was invaluable, as an advisor, a confidant, and by tightening up my prose. The Coast is a small operation, with just 20 employees, and yet the owners—Kyle and his wife, publisher Christine Oreskovitch, and president Cathy Salisbury—gave me the time and resources to pursue this story to conclusion. They’ve made a commitment to keeping hard news and investigative news in The Coast, and this article wouldn’t have happened without that commitment.
We published “A Trust Betrayed” on February 16, 2012. Mayor Kelly immediately went into hiding, cancelling all public appearances. Six days later, he announced he would not run for reelection.
Over the next months, Mayor Kelly paid at least $145,000 back into the estate. The court removed him as executor, and the estate has since been settled. The charities have been paid in full.
To my amazement, there was never a police investigation into the matter, but that’s subject of a future article.
Michener Awards Ceremony
June 18, 2013.