Quebec police say they have arrested 10 people linked to the province's construction industry, in a dragnet that included members of the Hells Angels.
Authorities said they have a total of 14 arrest warrants connected to an investigation dubbed "Diligence," carried out in the Greater Montreal area.
Provincial police say the operation targeted members of the Hells Angels biker gang who were alleged to have been using threats and extortion in an attempt to gain control of the masonry industry in Quebec.
Officials said the investigation was not linked to the recent announcement by the Quebec government about the creation of a special squad to crack down on corruption involving the construction sector and public officials.
The investigation was launched in the spring of 2007 following a complaint from an entrepreneur in the Montreal region, and stemmed from another police operation dubbed "SharQc," police said. Operation SharQc culminated in the arrest of 128 people with ties to criminal biker gangs in April.
Police said they are still looking for the leader of the organization, Normand Marvin (Casper) Ouimet. A member of the Trois-Rivieres chapter of the Hells Angels, Ouimet was already wanted by police in connection with SharQc.
The organization used three methods to allegedly launder money, said Quebec provincial police Insp. Denis Morin.
The group would try to gain access to masonry companies by using threats and extortion. Once they had gained control of the companies, police said the group would file fraudulent bills for consulting services and put members of the criminal organization on the company payroll.
Morin said the group also used the help of an accounting firm and real estate agent to launder money through a handful of real estate projects.
Finally, Morin said the group used a series of offshore tax havens.
Despite his status on Quebec's Top 10 most-wanted list, Morin said officials believe Ouimet is still trying to remain active in the organization.
Investigation just the tip of the iceberg
When asked whether the investigation was also looking into potential connections with elected officials, provincial police Insp. Michel Forget, the force's assistant director of information and criminal investigations, declined to comment.
"This is not necessarily the end [of the investigation]. Other people will be met," said Forget.
But organized crime journalist Michel Auger said the arrests are just "the tip of the iceberg of problem in the whole industry."
Last spring, Paul Sauvé, president of masonry firm LM Sauvé, which was awarded a $1.6 million dollar contract to fix the masonry at Montreal city hall, told police he had been approached by organized crime to pay a $40,000 to bribe city councillors.
Auger says it was also Sauvé’s information that launched Operation Diligence.
"So it's altogether, it's the same, the problem is the construction business," said Auger.
Those arrested face charges including having made threats, intimidation, extortion, participation in a criminal organization, money laundering, conspiracy and concealment.
In all, police met with 75 different witnesses or victims, conducted 62 raids, and seized more than $9-million worth of funds, cash and property.