Frank Zampino, 5 co-accused acquitted in Faubourg-Contrecoeur case

A Quebec court judge has acquitted the former number two man at Montreal city hall and his five co-defendants, along with the company they worked for, in the Faubourg-Contrecoeur fraud and conspiracy case.

Quebec Court Judge Yvan Poulin finds 6 men, Construction Frank Catania Inc. not guilty on all charges

Frank Zampino, former chair of the Montreal executive committee, was facing fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust charges in connection to a 2007 land deal. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

A Quebec court judge has acquitted the former number two man at Montreal city hall and his five co-defendants, along with the company the five men worked for, in the Faubourg-Contrecoeur case.

Frank Zampino chaired Montreal's executive committee and served as former Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay's right-hand man from 2002 to 2008. He was also the former mayor of Saint-Léonard.

Zampino was arrested in 2012 and accused of using his political influence to help construction magnate Paolo Catania in a bid to secure the contract to build a housing development on city-owned land in east-end Montreal in 2007. 

He and Catania faced charges of fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust.

Martin D'Aoust, Pasquale Fedele, André Fortin and Pascal Patrice, all executives at Construction Frank Catania Inc., along with the company itself, also faced charges of fraud and conspiracy.

Quebec Court Judge Yvan Poulin acquitted all seven in a ruling handed down early this afternoon. The two-year trial conducted by judge alone ended in late February.

Long, complex case

The lengthy decision, which took Poulin nearly three hours to read out in court, amounted to a repudiation of the Crown's case that Zampino had used his influence to help his friend, the developer Paolo Catania and his associates.

"It's clear that a number of assertions by the prosecution are not supported by the evidence," he said, saying at times the Crown's arguments amounted to "speculation" and "conjecture."

For example, Poulin said, there were problems with an irregular loan to Catania's company from the city's public housing agency. However, he said, there was no evidence that Zampino or Catania had any knowledge of that.

The judge noted there was no evidence that financial incentives given to Catania to decontaminate and develop the housing development site were dishonest or unlawful.
Today, Fabourg Contrecoeur, in Montreal's east end, is home to 5,000 residents. (Radio-Canada)

He said while there was evidence that the price paid by Catania for the land slated for development was too low, there was no evidence to suggest that any of the accused tried to artificially inflate the cost of decontaminating the land in order to benefit the construction company.

The judge said the testimony of a couple of witnesses who suggested that Zampino had been up to no good was "vague" and "imprecise."

By comparison, Poulin said he found the testimony of the main defendants persuasive and plausible.

Another trial to come

After Poulin's ruling, Catania left the courtroom without making any comment.

Outside the courtroom, Zampino's lawyer read a statement to reporters, saying that his client was "relieved and extremely grateful to his family."

Through his lawyer, the former politician said he believed at the time of his arrest and believes now that he never should have been charged. He said the case has placed an enormous emotional and financial stress on his family.

The Crown prosecutor said she is disappointed by the decision and will study it before deciding whether to appeal.

Zampino's legal troubles are not over. Last fall, in the midst of his testimony, he was arrested again on a separate set of  charges connected to the awarding of $160 million in municipal contracts. His trial on those charges is pending.

With files from Steve Rukavina