A developer with admitted ties to the Montreal Mafia is at the centre of a questionable land deal that saw the value of a Notre-Dame-de-Grâce property skyrocket in only four years, a Radio-Canada investigation has uncovered.

The parcel of land, formerly the site of the NDG Catholic orphanage, is located in Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum’s former borough. Its rapid rise in value came after the borough approved three zoning changes between 2003 and 2007.

The land was purchased by Montreal developer Lee Lalli in 2003. Two pieces of land were in the parcel at the time, one of which was quickly sold off to an interested buyer.

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Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum said he did not know about any links between Lalli and the Mafia. (Radio-Canada)

The other portion, which he bought for $50,000, quickly shot up in value after the zoning was amended on the site. That zoning, which initially dictated the land be used for an orphanage, changed three times in the four years Lalli owned the property.

In 2007, when he finally sold the land, it went for $4.5 million.

Lalli says well before he made that purchase, then-borough mayor Michael Applebaum told him he wanted to build the new borough hall there as a public-private partnership.

That plan eventually fell through and a 12-storey seniors’ residence went up in its place.

Applebaum, who was elected mayor of Montreal earlier this year after his predecessor Gérald Tremblay stepped down, denies sharing any privileged information with Lalli.

"I’ve never given any inside information about what city hall will do to anyone," Applebaum said.

Union Montreal support

Lalli was a staunch supporter of Applebaum’s former Union Montreal party. In 2003, he organized a fundraiser for the party that was attended by both the current and former mayors.

The event was held at the Mafia-linked restaurant La Cantina on Montreal’s St-Laurent Boulevard.

It took place during the same time as the land deal for the orphanage.

Applebaum denies any links between the two events.

"I can’t be bought," he said.

Rizzuto involvement

Lalli wasn’t the only Mafia-linked developer interested in the land. Tony Magi, a Montreal businessman with known links to organized crime, also bid on the parcel.

In the end, he was outbid by Lalli. It was at that point that Vito Rizzuto, the head of the Montreal mob, allegedly intervened to mediate the situation.

In a recorded conversation with Radio-Canada’s senior investigative journalist Alain Gravel, Lalli says that Rizzuto told him Tony wanted to partner with him on the development.

"I said no," Lalli said.

Lalli admits that he had a relationship with Rizzuto, saying that he sometimes did favours for the mob boss.

There is no proof that Applebaum was ever aware of any links between Lalli and the Mafia.

He said he knew nothing about Rizzuto’s attempt to mediate the dispute between Lalli and Magi over the land deal in his borough. He also said he was never told by police about any alleged involvement by organized crime in the deal.

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Lee Lalli says that Vito Rizzuto got involved in the deal when developer Tony Magi expressed interest in being a partner. (Radio-Canada)