A suspended public works supervisor said he only learned of a lucrative scheme of collusion and kickbacks involving his subordinates and construction entrepreneurs when he heard their testimony on television.

Gilles Vézina denied any knowledge of the contract inflation practices of former city engineers Luc Leclerc and Gilles Suprenant, saying that he accepted gifts from construction bosses, but only in the context of a "business relationship."

Vézina, who was suspended without pay from the city earlier this month, took the witness stand at the Charbonneau commission for his second day Tuesday. He said he was in the dark about much of the scheme described by witnesses before the commission, one that saw more than $1 million in cash and services kicked back to Leclerc and Surprenant.

Surprenant and Leclerc both told the commission they pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for their role in allowing the inflation of contracts.

Leclerc admitted to taking 25 per cent from the contingency costs built into the already-inflated rates that construction companies had charged on public works contracts.  He testified he had spent about $500,000 in ill-gotten cash over the years but couldn't say how much he had received in total.

Excerpt of Gilles Vézina's testimony

Commission prosecutor Claudine Roy: In the course of your work, you received different gifts from different entrepreneurs on different occasions. We heard about hockey tickets, dinners, offers made by two entrepreneurs for escorts, but we haven't heard about cash. Did you receive envelopes of money?

Vézina: No.

Roy: Never?

Vézina: Never.

Roy: You're sure? Not by any entrepreneur?

Vézina: I never asked, and I never received anything.

Roy: You didn't ask, that's what you said? But did you receive anything?

Vézina: No.

Vézina said he had no business questioning the relationship between Leclerc and the construction bosses, who Leclerc told the commission also did thousands of dollars in unbilled work on his home.

He also didn't ask questions when Leclerc was assigned to supervise nine contracts won by companies owned by Frank and Paulo Catania, who lived adjacent Leclerc's house in Brossard and whose companies did some of the free work.

Vézina said it would have been unprofessional to question Leclerc about it since he didn't have proof of anything that was untoward.

He pointed to the code of conduct of the Quebec Order of Engineers, which he says prohibits making accusations of wrongdoing against an engineer without evidence.

Accepted gifts from construction firms

Vézina said he said he accepted bottles of wine from about a dozen construction firms that did business with the city.

He also said construction bosses would call him up at his office at city hall and ask him what restaurant he wanted to go to.

Vézina testified that he was offered the services of an escort on at least two occasions by two different construction bosses in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

He said the offers came after dinner with businessmen who then invited him to take an escort into a hotel room to end off the night.

He told the inquiry that he never accepted the offer of prostitutes.

"I told them it didn't interest me," said Vézina, who was recently married at the time. "I wasn't surprised (by the offer), but it didn't interest me."

Vézina has admitted to attending anniversary parties, weddings and dinners at exclusive clubs with construction bosses who have already been implicated in the kickback scheme at city hall and ties to the mob, including Nicolo Milioto.  

He told the commission that all of the gifts and meals were offered in the context of their "business relationship."

Suspended without pay

Vézina led the team responsible for the management and supervision of construction contracts for the City of Montreal for 20 years.

He was suspended, along with two other public works employees, with pay in October while the city conducted an internal investigation. That was changed to suspensions without pay after Leclerc's testimony.

Leclerc told the commission that he never saw Vézina accept cash, but Leclerc said Vézina did participate in activities organized by the construction bosses and accepted bottles of wine.

with files from Canadian Press