The man accused of acting as the middleman between Quebec’s construction industry and the Montreal Mafia made an emotional address to Quebec's Charbonneau commission Tuesday afternoon, saying he has never been a member of the Mob.
"I’m not a member of organized crime," an audibly distressed Nicolo Milioto told the commission looking into corruption in the construction industry.
"I’m a member of a company, Mivela construction, that I founded … to make a life for my family. Because I did a favour for someone you suggest is the head of the Mafia, you’ve brought down 45 years of work I did for my family."
Milioto flatly denied earlier testimony that he was responsible for collecting a 2.5 per cent "tax" payable to the Mob from Montreal-area construction entrepreneurs who won city contracts.
"You suggest that I’m a member of the Mafia," he testified. "It never crossed my mind. A member of the Mafia doesn’t work 70 hours a week. I’ve worked two jobs to provide for my family. I am not a part of organized crime."
Milioto's name has come up in the testimony of numerous witnesses who have appeared before the commission. An RCMP officer who presented police surveillance video captured at the Consenza Social Club, a hangout of the Montreal Mafia, described Milioto as the intermediary between the industry and organized crime.
Another construction entrepreneur, Lino Zambito, told the commission he paid his cut to the Mob through Milioto, who he said would arrange to meet at any of a variety of locations.
Milioto admitted to taking money from Zambito and delivering it to Nicolo Rizzuto Sr., but claims he was simply making a delivery and didn't know what the money was for.
Rizzuto money on loan
Milioto has admitted to having friendships with the Rizzuto family, who hail from the same small village in Sicily where he was born.
He told the commission that he had no business dealings with the Mob, but he had received a loan from Rizzuto Sr. because it was easier than going to the bank.
"I don’t pay interest. That could be a reason. It’s easier," Milioto said as he was grilled on why he shoved a stack of cash into his sock after it was handed to him by Rizzuto Sr.
'I don’t remember why he gave me money. Was it the time he loaned me money? I don’t remember.' —Nicolo Milioto
The incident was caught on video by police surveillance during Operation Colisée, a massive police investigation targeting the Montreal Mafia.
Milioto admitted he brought cash to the Cosenza, but said it was only for one of two reasons: He was delivering it for Zambito or it was cash collected for a social club.
Milioto was presented with a tape that showed him with Rizzuto and another man counting piles of money in the back room of café that served as a hangout for the Montreal Mafia.
In the video, Milioto brings in a bag filled with bills and takes part in counting them. The cash is separated into seven piles. Rizzuto then hands Milioto some bills, which he puts in his jacket.
"Mr. Rizzuto could have asked me to do him a favour and gave me $100 or $200 …. It’s possible he gave it to me to do an errand — buy something for him," Milioto said when pressed on why he was taking a portion of the cash that he said was intended for Rizzuto.
A few minutes later in the video, Milioto takes more of the cash and puts it in his socks. At first, Milioto said Rizzuto had never given him cash, but did lend him money on one occasion.
"I don’t remember why he gave me money. Was it the time he loaned me money? I don’t remember," Milioto said.
That story later changed, and he said Rizzuto might have given him money for two different things: the marriage of his daughter and for the construction of his house.
He admitted that the timing of those two events didn’t line up with the date of the incident caught on tape: Dec. 24, 2004.
Milioto then said he had taken a loan just for a month or two from Rizzuto.
"Instead of going to a bank, you went to see Mr. Rizzuto, known godfather of the Montreal Mafia, at the Consenza which is their meeting place, to borrow $25,000 and put it in your socks, is that right?" commission prosecutor Sonia LeBel asked.
Milioto insisted that the incident happened more than eight years ago, and he couldn’t remember what the money was for.
In 2004, his company, Mivela construction, was worth $8 million, he told the commission. He also had no debts in his name at that time. He retired from the business in 2012.
"Eight million dollars and you had to go to the back room of an obscure bar?" LeBel pressed.
Milioto said often their income didn’t cover all of their expenses and $8 million on the books didn’t necessarily mean $8 million in liquid assets.
Milioto, who was first called as a witness yesterday, has refused to name names on several occasions and had previously denied having any business dealings with the Mafia.
This morning, he told the commission he had only heard about the Cosa Nostra in newspapers and on television.
"I have no idea what the Mafia is," Milioto said. "Is it someone who kills? Someone who steals? Someone who traffics drugs? I don’t know."
Milioto’s vague responses were met with a strict directive from commission chair France Charbonneau, who sternly advised him to "reflect" during a break in the proceedings this morning.
"I will tell your lawyer to explain to you what is contempt of court, and I will also ask him to explain to you what is an accusation of perjury," she told him. "We’ll come back after the break, and you will have to answer the questions."
He returns to the witness box tomorrow.
Milioto’s vague responses have elicited some heated exchanges between the witness and commission prosecutor Sonia LeBel .
Shortly before the hearing’s afternoon break, she laid out a list of some of those points, circling back to the tape and the details of the impromptu loan Milioto says explains why he took the money.
"You don’t talk about business with Mr. Rizzuto. You don’t know what he does for a living. You don’t know how he makes his money. You don’t know why Mr. Zambito was giving him money. You don’t know why Mr. Zambito had to … You don’t know what the Mafia is. The ‘pizzo’ is an urban legend as far as you’re concerned. You can borrow from the bank. You don’t talk about anything when you’re playing cards, but you trust him enough to borrow $25,000. You are president of a company that does [$8] million in business but you want to save a couple bucks in interest, is that what we’re to understand?"
Milioto responded simply:
"You’re sitting down. The money’s there. You ask ‘Can you loan me $25,000 for two or three months?' It’s like a favour. You see, I did a lot of favours for them, errands and things."