Blackberry text messages presented as evidence at Quebec's corruption inquiry Tuesday show the former head of Montreal's public works department shared insider information with at least one construction entrepreneur.

Robert Marcil has steadfastly denied any knowledge of corruption in his department throughout two days of testimony before the Charbonneau commission. 

Late in the day, however, he was presented with hard evidence to the contrary: a series of text messages from 2009 exchanged with Giuseppe Borsellino, the head of Garnier Construction, in which Marcil provided details about bids and contracts.

Marcil texted Borsellino from the Blackberry device provided by his employer, the City of Montreal.

Commission counsel Denis Gallant presented Marcil with the evidence after almost two days of listening to the McGill-trained engineer insist he wasn't privy to a system of collusion and corruption in his department.

Marcil also explained away the hundreds of calls between him and various construction entrepreneurs as "city business," although he did admit he might have been negligent when it came to ethics.

"You gave privileged information," Gallant charged. "That is a breach of contract that should have gotten you fired."

Tried to pay for Italy trip, Marcil insists

Earlier in the day, Gallant asked Marcil about a trip he took to Italy in 2008, paid for by Borsellino.

Marcil said he had planned the trip with the former vice-president of Genivar, Yves Lortie, who told him Borsellino had asked to join them.

He told the commission Borsellino was in charge of planning the trip, booking hotels rooms – some of which cost nearly $700 a night – and the high-speed train to go to Florence.

"When we got there, at the hotel, Mr. Borsellino said 'I paid for it,'" said Marcil. "I insisted [to repay him,] but Mr. Borsellino did not want me to, so finally I gave up."

Marcil said he insisted on paying for his own flight and intended to pay his own hotel once in Italy, but said Borsellino paid for the rest of the luxury trip.

Commission chair France Charbonneau asked Marcil if he argued with the construction boss to pay his for his own trip, to which Marcil said he "lacked judgment" and probably shouldn't have accepted Borsellino's offer.

Once the City of Montreal caught wind of the trip, Marcil was asked to explain himself.

He told the commission he could not remember what he told his superiors, but he resigned from his position the day after being asked to explain his actions.

Marcil's phone records analyzed

The commission also asked Marcil about his close relationships with several of the key players identified in a contract collusion scheme, the province’s corruption inquiry has heard.

Marcil maintained most of those relationships were focused on business dealings, but phone records showed that he made and received hundreds of calls from some of the big players in the Montreal construction industry throughout his tenure.

He told the commission that most of those calls were probably construction firms inquiring about payment from the city or upcoming projects. He said he would often look into a file for the contractors if they had questions about a project in which they were involved, despite the fact that he didn't work on site or supervise that project directly.

Phone logs entered as evidence before the inquiry show more than 80 calls, all outgoing, from Marcil's cell phone to construction boss Nicolo Milioto and hundreds more to the heads of several Montreal construction firms. Marcil told the commission that Milioto must have called his office, and he was likely returning the calls.

"These are people that we do business with, so of course they call me or call [city supervisor Gilles] Vézina," he told the commission.

Vézina testified in November he often recieved gifts like bottles of wine from construction bosses.

He said he had no knowledge of the collusion scheme and said it would have been unprofessional to question city engineers about any unethical behaviour since he had no proof.

Marcil did say he had a relationship that went beyond mere business with at least one contractor, but for the most part, the conversations and lunch meetings were all about city business.

Excerpt from the city's 2009 code of ethics concerning gifts and benefits

The following things are considered a benefit: Any gifts, hospitality, favour, loan, service, compensation, money, payment, profit, discount and free admission or discounted admission to sporting or cultural events.

Employees may not solicit, accept or receive any benefit in exchange for the exercise of his or her duties in addition to what is allocated for this purpose by the city.

Marcil has denied all knowledge of the system of collusion that saw members of his staff receiving kickbacks in exchange for inflating the price of contracts.

Several engineers who worked below Marcil have already admitted to accepting money and other gifts from construction bosses for their role in the scheme.

Marcil was asked what his reaction was when he found out that the entrepreneurs he had good relationships with, and even shared meals and took at least one vacation with, had corrupted his engineers.

"I was surprised," Marcil said.

"The people you were communicating with were at the core of a system of collusion for years. You can tell me to my face that you were surprised?" commission prosecutor Denis Gallant asked.

"Absolutely," Marcil replied.

Ethics codes

Gallant brought out the city’s ethics code, both the version from 2004 and the revised version that was released in 2009. The earlier version of the document, while it did not explicitly state employees are not to accept gifts, had a significant section addressing conflict of interest.

The document tells employees to ask themselves: "Am I comfortable talking openly about the situation and to expose all the elements?"

Marcil said accepting gifts was a widely accepted and "tolerated" practice within the city and was considered good business relations, in spite of those rules.

Gallant asked Marcil if accepting the bottles of wine, hockey tickets and other perks offered up by construction bosses was not in direct contradiction with the city's ethics directives.

"Absolutely," he said.

"Neither you nor any of your superiors decided to take action when your employees had their lunches paid for and accepted gifts?"

"No," Marcil replied.

Portions of the 2009 code of ethics, which many previous witnesses have pointed to as turning the tide of collusion because it led to stricter oversight, were also read for the commission.

The updated document explicitly states that city employees are prohibited from accepting any gifts, favours or services that could give them any kind of benefit in the performance of their duties.

Marcil said he couldn’t remember any specific meetings about the amendments to the rules but said there were discussions around it.

He was asked if there was a point when everyone agreed the "free for all" in his department must stop.

"I don’t remember specifically about how it came to the table, but I remember very well that human resources were involved," he said.

Marcil said the departure of the former head of the executive committee, Frank Zampino, also spurred a lot of questions about ethics at city hall.

Marcil's testimony continues for a third day on Wednesday.