10 witnesses whose testimony rocked the Charbonneau commission

The Charbonneau commission wraps up public hearings today, after more than two years and nearly 190 witnesses. Here's some of the most important, revealing and shocking testimony from key witnesses.

Kickbacks and collusion, powerful friends and dangerous enemies dominated witness testimony

Commissioner France Charbonneau presided over two and a half years of testimony from entrepreneurs, politicians, political organizers, bureaucrats, investigators and union bosses. (Charbonneau Commission)

After two-and-a-half years of testimony and nearly 190 witnesses, the Charbonneau commission wraps up its public hearings today.

Take a look back at some of the most important, revealing and shocking testimony from the commission's key witnesses. 

1. Giuseppe Borsellino: 'Everything is truqué'

Borsellino shed light on the extent of the widespread collusion scheme involving Montreal public works contracts that saw bids rigged in exchange for kickbacks and false extras approved for additional profits. 

He readily admitted to taking part in the scheme, however, he said it was not construction bosses, but a City of Montreal engineer who came up with the cash-for-contracts deal.

Earlier in the commission hearings, that engineer, Gilles Surprenant, struggled to hold back tears as he told the commission how he was corrupted by the entrepreneurs. He admitted to pocketing $600,000 in kickbacks. 

Borsellino also told the commission that he was actively solicited to attend cocktail fundraisers thrown by political parties, which pitched them as networking opportunities. He said he eventually stopped attending the events because he deemed the donations "unethical."

​2. Nicolo Milioto: 'Mr. Sidewalk'

Described by police as the "middleman" between the industry and the Montreal Mob, Milioto notably denied even knowing what the Mafia was when he took the witness box in February 2013. 

During four days of heated testimony, Milioto – known as 'Mr. Sidewalk' for his stranglehold on city sidewalk contracts –denied virtually every allegation against him.

Milioto’s alleged links to the Mob made headlines in the fall, when an RCMP officer testified before the commission that he was captured on police surveillance video 236 times at the Consenza Social Club – a once-popular Mafia hangout in Montreal.

He was infamously caught on surveillance video stuffing cash from a construction boss into his socks and handing it to a known associate of Nick Rizzuto Sr., the patriarch of the reputed crime family. 

Milioto admitted that he took money from another construction entrepreneur and brought it to the former Don of the Montreal Mob, but he insisted he was merely doing a favour for a friend and didn't ask what the cash was for.

Milioto’s company's work with the city jumped between 2006 and 2009, topping out at nearly $22 million in contracts. However, that figure plummeted after 2009, coinciding with the city's institution of a new code of ethics.

3. Gérald Tremblay: The willfully blind mayor

Montreal’s former mayor, who stepped down from his post while pleading his innocence months before his testimony, told the commission he was never informed about a system of public contract collusion, seemingly operating under his nose at city hall for years.

The first reference of collusion that was brought to his attention, he told the commission, came in the form of a 2009 report by the Auditor General.

He also denied knowing anything about off-the-books fundraising by his party Union Montréal, although other witnesses testified funds were solicited in exchange for favourable access to city contracts.

Tremblay did admit that it was “common knowledge” that elected officials and bureaucrats received perks, such as invitations to hockey games from city suppliers.

“It’s not forbidden for an elected official, from time to time, to go to a hockey game. . . or put in a round of golf,” he told the commission, adding he presumed that people knew where to draw the line.

4. Julie Boulet: The sitting MNA

The former transport minister and only sitting MNA to testify at the commission, Boulet was dogged by the question of a $100,000 annual funding objective for cabinet ministers back in the 2000s.

Inquiry counsel Sonia LeBel confronted Boulet with the words of two of her ex-cabinet colleagues, Sam Hamad and Christine St-Pierre, who said the $100,000 objective was widely known. 

Boulet reiterated she had no idea about any fundraising objectives until learning of them from a colleague in 2009. She also refuted earlier testimony from an entrepreneur who claimed he was frozen out of the transport minister's office after refusing to make a party donation.

Boulet denied ever calling any entrepreneurs directly to solicit donations. 

5. Martin Dumont: The man who felled the mayor

The former Union Montréal organizer shocked Montrealers when he told the commission he was once called in to a partisan fundraising official's office to help when Bernard Trépanier couldn't close his safe because it was stuffed too full of cash. 

He also alleged that Nicolo Milioto threatened him, telling Dumont, then chief of staff for a borough mayor, "I wouldn't want you to find yourself in the foundation of one of my sidewalks," after Dumont noticed discrepancies between two sidewalk contracts.

But it was his allegation that Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay turned a blind eye when presented with two sets of financial records for a 2004 byelection campaign in the St-Laurent borough that sent the biggest ripples through Montreal City Hall. 

Tremblay quit political life within days of that testimony, vehemently denying Dumont's version of the facts.

6. Frank Zampino: The alleged power broker

Zampino's name peppered the testimony of a stream of witnesses from the construction industry, many of whom have pointed to the former executive-committee head as the man pulling the strings in a collusion scheme that allegedly saw large engineering firms paying big donations to the Union Montréal party in exchange for entry into a municipal contract-sharing arrangement.

Mayor Gérald Tremblay's former right-hand man, Zampino left municipal politics in 2008.

The former head of the city's executive committee told the commission he didn't necessarily have a problem with bureaucrats accepting gifts like hockey tickets and golf trips, as long as the rules were followed. What mattered, he said, was to resist being influenced and to avoid favouring certain contractors.

He testified that word of kickback schemes never reached the level of the city's powerful executive committee.

"I repeat: We were never made aware and never saw any red flags," Zampino told the commission. 

A portion of his testimony was covered by a publication ban because Zampino is still facing a number of criminal charges — including fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust.

7. Lino Zambito: The star witness

During several days of testimony, Zambito named names, recalled meetings and detailed his involvement in a collusion scheme that included billing city hall for false expenses on municipal projects.

In one of the more shocking allegations heard by the commission, Zambito recounted a business dispute between himself and Accurso over a lucrative Transports Québec contract. He said Vito Rizzuto, the late former head of the Montreal Mafia, met with the two men at a Laval restaurant to mediate the disagreement over the contract for the Acadie Circle.

Zambito, who left the construction industry, also told the commission that a system of collusion in Laval was well-entrenched. He said construction entrepreneurs were expected to give a "cut" worth 2.5 per cent of the value of each contract to Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt.

Within a month, Vaillancourt – who had served as mayor since 1989 – had resigned his post. Six months later, still maintaining his innocence, Vaillancourt was arrested and charged with conspiracy, fraud, influence peddling, breach of trust and gangsterism.

8. Ken Pereira: The whistleblower

The former employee of the FTQ's construction wing told the commission he stole documents from the union’s office which showed its executive director, Jocelyn Dupuis, was running up “astronomical” expenses.

But after he turned to police and investigative journalist Alain Gravel, he said it became clear his life was in danger. 

He said the federation’s top brass tried to buy his silence, offering him $300,000. He also testified he was told to shut up by a highly placed associate of Montreal’s Mob, Raynald Desjardins. 

Pereira also testified that organized criminals fixed the 2008 election for the union’s executive.

He said bikers had been seen circling the polling station. Then a candidate not connected with organized crime suddenly pulled out of the race.

At the end of his six days of testimony, commission chairwoman France Charbonneau thanked Pereira for his testimony, telling him he had proved his bravery.

9. Jocelyn Dupuis: The fallen union leader 

During his time in the witness box, Dupuis was inundated with wiretap evidence – conversations between himself and various people with close ties to organized crime, including associates of the Montreal Mafia and the Hells Angels.

However, Dupuis denied that those people were pulling the strings at FTQ-Construction while he was director.  He told the inquiry he never realized that he was involved with organized crime figures, including former Rizzuto lieutenant Raynald Desjardins. 

Dupuis said his only interest was in rehabilitating people such as Desjardins and giving them a chance to get back on their feet by working in the construction industry.

10. Tony Accurso: The construction tycoon 

Photos of union bosses and city officials partying on Accurso's luxury yacht, The Touch, may remain among the most iconic images of the commission. Accurso's friends in high places were among the many topics probed during his testimony. 

He stressed that he never invited elected officials, municipal or provincial, on his infamous yacht, the Touch. But among the names on the guest list he provided to the commission was one celebrity: Mick Jagger. 

Accurso freely admitted to having close, family-like relationships with high-ranking union leaders, many of whom vacationed in the Caribbean on his boat. 

He also confirmed before the commission that he had an extensive network of contacts that included some members of the Montreal Mafia.

It was a significant admission for a man who has spent years denying he had any connection to members of organized crime.

However, Accurso repeatedly denied that he ever used his connections to secure contracts or manipulate the system at city hall or within the provincial government. 

Accurso faces an array of criminal charges related to the awarding of municipal contracts in the municipalities of Mascouche and Laval, and he went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to argue that testifying would jeopardize his right to a fair trial.

Accurso and his companies are also charged with tax fraud.

with files from Canadian Press


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