Montreal·In Depth

'No paper trail' in Michael Applebaum's corruption trial means focus is on key witness's testimony

Without any documents connecting Michael Applebaum to an alleged strategy of municipal corruption, the testimony and credibility of a single key witness is important in the case against the former mayor of Montreal.

Former Montreal mayor, who maintains his innocence, has declined to testify in his own defence

Former Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum is accused of asking for bribes in exchange for bureaucratic favours when he was the mayor of Montreal's Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Without any documents connecting Michael Applebaum to an alleged strategy of municipal corruption, the testimony and credibility of a single key witness is important in the case against the former mayor of Montreal.

Applebaum is accused of breach of trust, conspiracy and two forms of corruption: municipal corruption and fraud on the government.

All the charges date back to the period in which Applebaum was borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. Applebaum has always maintained his innocence.

Quebec Court Judge Louise Provost heard seven days of testimony at the Montreal courthouse, and she will listen to the closing arguments of both parties before she decides Applebaum's fate.

The former mayor, whose tenure was cut short when he was arrested, faces a maximum of five years imprisonment if he is found guilty.

Hugo Tremblay, who worked as Michael Applebaum's chief of staff, told the court he was told to ask for cash bribes, and he divided the cash between himself and Applebaum. (Radio-Canada)

The charges against Applebaum are related to two key building projects in Montreal: a proposed real estate development on de Troie Avenue and a municipal contract for the management and maintenance of the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Sports Centre.

While Applebaum is accused of asking for cash kickbacks in exchange for bureaucratic favours, the witnesses who admitted in court to handing over bribes said the cash was all ferried through Hugo Tremblay, Applebaum's right-hand man.

Tremblay is the only witness who testified that it was Applebaum who instructed him how to solicit the kickbacks, how much money to ask for and how to divide the cash.

"I did what Michael Applebaum said to do," he told the court. 

Another witness, real estate manager Robert Stein, told the court that Applebaum told him "elections aren't cheap" and encouraged him to pay cash for tickets to a political fundraiser.

The court also heard from a mortgage consultant, Anthony Keeler, who testified that while he didn't see Applebaum accepting any cash, the one-time borough mayor helped their project by persuading a zoning committee to approve it.

'No paper trail'

Asked by CBC News to comment on the case, Montreal criminal defence attorney Eric Sutton said Tremblay's credibility is key.

During his testimony, Tremblay told the court that Applebaum taught him to arrange illegal fundraising and solicit cash donations from real estate promoters.

He testified that it was common for Applebaum to say things such as, "We gotta make a living."

The court heard how Tremblay would receive tens of thousands of dollars in cash from real estate promoters and engineers, keeping some for himself and giving the rest to Applebaum. 

Sutton said that without physical proof of those transactions, Tremblay's testimony is critical.

"There's no documentary evidence. There's no paper trail. There's no little notes on napkins with amounts and numbers in his handwriting," Sutton told CBC.

Could cocaine use impact credibility?

In his experience, Sutton said when witnesses admit to things such as drug use, it could influence their credibility.

Under the questioning of the defence lawyer, Tremblay admitted to using cocaine in the past, but he added that his use was recreational — likely two or three times a year.

"I probably tried it the first time at 16 or 17 years old and maybe did it a few times in my 20s," he testified.

"It's not my lifestyle that created corruption, it's corruption that created my lifestyle."

Defence lawyer Pierre Teasdale (left) has said his client, Michael Applebaum, will not testify. (Radio-Canada)

Tremblay never charged

Sutton also said when witnesses make deals with police, it could impact their credibility.

Tremblay, who admitted to asking for and accepting bribes, testified that police told him that his statements in this case would not be used as proof against him. 

"By making deals with the police … one might think that they will tailor their story to the police and prosecution to tell them what they want to hear," Sutton said.

Closing arguments to come

Since the defence is not calling any witnesses in this case, and Applebaum will not be testifying, all that's left before the judge considers her verdict are closing arguments from the two lawyers.

Crown prosecutor Nathalie Kleber will make her final presentation on Friday, followed by Pierre Teasdale on Monday. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jaela Bernstien

Journalist

Jaela Bernstien is a Montreal-based journalist who covers stories about climate change and human rights for CBC News. She has a decade of experience and files regularly for web, radio and TV. She won a CAJ award as part of a team investigating black-market labour in Quebec. You can reach her at jaela.bernstien@cbc.ca

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