A Quebec Court judge has found former Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum guilty of eight corruption-related charges, in a case that centred around accepting cash in return for favours for local real-estate developers and engineering firms.
Quebec Court Judge Louise Provost said she was convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that Applebaum had committed most of the crimes of which he was accused.
The judge's decision punctuates a troubled chapter in Montreal's history, filled with tales of collusion and kickbacks for contracts.
Applebaum rose to power in 2013 on a promise to clean up Montreal City Hall. Only seven months later, he was arrested on charges dating back to his time as borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
He faced a total of 14 conspiracy, breach of trust and corruption charges. Provost acquitted him on two charges, while the four others were suspended because of the guilty verdicts.
'Justice has been done,' Coderre says
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre told reporters shortly after the decision that "justice has been done," stressing that steps have been taken to stamp out corruption in municipal politics under his watch.
"We made sure we put up some benchmarks and tools to protect interests of Montrealers, when we created the inspector general which was exactly for that reason," Coderre said.
"We are moving ahead. I was not a part of that past and we're moving on."
Pierre Teasdale, Applebaum's lawyer, said he will study the case carefully before deciding whether to appeal the conviction.
The judge will hear sentencing arguments on Feb. 15. Applebaum could face up to five years in prison.
The judge's ruling was briefly delayed after Applebaum, 53, collapsed in the courtroom.
Provost had been reading her decision for over an hour when Applebaum leaned forward and doubled over onto the table in front of him.
"Are you OK Mr. Applebaum? Mr. Applebaum is not well," she said.
The charges stem from a period between 2006 and 2012 while Applebaum was borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, and before he became Montreal mayor.
The trial centred on two projects: a proposed real estate development on de Troie Avenue, and a municipal contract for the management and maintenance of the NDG Sports Centre.
The Crown argued Applebaum asked for cash kickbacks in exchange for ensuring the projects were approved by his administration.
There was no paper trail linking Applebaum to the illicit cash, and during her ruling Provost said she would have been surprised if the investigators had been able to seize any, given the extreme prudence shown by the accused.
While Applebaum never admitted to any illegal activity on the surveillance recordings heard in court, Provost said she found several of his statements "troubling."
One of those statements was when Applebaum was recorded saying to the Crown's star witness, former political aide Hugo Tremblay: "In the end they have to have the money."
Applebaum's trial wrapped up in November after seven days of testimony from the prosecution's five witnesses.
The defence team declined to call any witnesses, and the former mayor did not testify.
'Not an angel'
The trial heard about DVD boxes stuffed with cash and a meeting where a witness recalled Applebaum saying either, "Elections are very expensive," or "Elections aren't cheap," before he was encouraged to pay thousands of dollars in cash for a political fundraiser.
Tremblay described how his boss taught him to arrange illegal fundraising and solicit cash donations from real estate promoters.
The defence tried to shake the credibility of Tremblay, but Provost said she found his testimony "articulate and sincere."
The Quebec court heard that during one conversation in 2007, Tremblay recalls Applebaum saying, "We gotta make a living."
"I realized at that moment that Michael Applebaum was open to corruption," Tremblay told the court.
He said his boss told him he "was not an angel."
- IN DEPTH Michael Applebaum's climb to power