The man who has come to be known at the province’s corruption commission as "Mr. Three Per Cent" says that he was often paid in cash for volunteer work with municipal political parties.

Bernard Trépanier told the Charbonneau commission this afternoon that he accepted cash for his work in several municipalities includes Boisbriand, Saint-Jérôme and Ville St-Laurent in the 90s.

However, he said he never accepted any payment for his work on the mayoral campaigns of his friend, Frank Zampino, in St-Leonard.

"A friend is a friend," he told the commission.

"I never asked for anything from Mr. Zampino in St-Léonard."

Trépanier is detailing for the commission his extensive history as a political organizer. He said he worked on campaigns in Laval, where he also never accepted payment, as well as other municipalities, such as Rosemere, where he was paid by cheque.

He said he was the only "pseudo-volunteer," or one who was actually paid, that he knew of in the municipal elections he worked on.

He told the commission he saw so-called turn-key elections – where engineering firms, contractors and lawyers would come together to support a political party to lock down municipal contracts – before 2004.

Trépanier said he was not involved in political fundraising before the spring of 2004, when he was hired as the director of fundraising for Union Montreal. Before that time, he worked only as an organizer, he said.

On Dessau's payroll

Trépanier was asked about nearly $1 million he was paid by the engineering firm Dessau between 2002 and 2009.

One of the firm's vice-presidents, Rosaire Sauriol, told the commission last week that his firm took part in a false-billing scheme to free up cash to pay Union Montréal in exchange for its role in the contract-rigging operation.

Sauriol has since resigned his post from Dessau, an international firm that started as a family business.

Trépanier said he did work for Dessau through his consulting firm, BerMax, concerning the preparation of bids for projects involving Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.

He was pressed on exactly what he did for Dessau to merit that kind of a paycheque, especially during the time that overlapped his tenure as a salaried employee with Union Montréal.

Trépanier said that he acted as an intermediary between Dessau and a business acquaintance who was a specialist in putting together submissions to win these kind of contracts. He said he paid that associate in cash, around $5,000 every two months.

Trudeau airport falls under federal jurisdiction and, therefore, those contracts fall outside of the commission's mandate — a point which was raised by Trépanier's lawyer just before the hearing wrapped for the day.

Highly-anticipated witness

Trépanier has been described by several previous witnesses as "Mr. Three Per Cent" for the cut of public contracts he allegedly collected for the former mayor's Union Montreal party, a system that allegedly started while he was the party's head of fundraising.

Since the public hearings started up again after the holiday break, the commission has heard from several engineering executives who have described Trépanier as the middleman between the industry and City Hall.

With a few slight variations, witness after witness described a scheme that involved the firms agreeing to share in a fixed bidding process that allowed them all to have a share of the lucrative public works contracts.

The cost of admission, many said, was a three per cent per contract pay back to Union Montréal, paid via Trépanier.

Some witnesses described making those payments, as well as a $200,000 lump sum intended to support the party’s 2005 election campaign, at Union Montréal’s offices. Others said they met Trépanier at restaurants or street corners and handed over envelopes or briefcases full of cash.

They said the system worked with the collaboration of the former director of public works, Robert Marcil, who allegedly had influence within the contract selection committees.

Most of the witnesses said Trépanier acted as an intermediary, receiving instructions from former executive committee head Frank Zampino.

Both Zampino and Trépanier were arrested and charged with fraud and other offences relating to the Faubourg-Contrecoeur housing development in Montreal in May 2012.

Their cases are currently making their way through the court system.

Trépanier worked for the party from 2004 but left abruptly in 2006. Several of the engineering executives said the system went on even after Trépanier’s departure from the party, and payments were still made through him.

A witness from the party, who testified earlier this week, however, suggested that those payments never made their way to the party coffers.

Marc Deschamps, the official agent for Union Montreal, said he believes Trépanier was pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars that was coming in from the engineering firms. 

Deschamps told the commission that Trépanier was fired from his duties with the party in February 2006 at the urging of former mayor Gérald Tremblay. However, he said, that move was "just for show."