Montreal

Corruption 'created my lifestyle,' key witness in Michael Applebaum's trial testifies

The former political aide to ex-Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum who informed on his boss to help investigators told the corruption trial he spent illegally obtained cash on drugs and extravagant trips.

Former Montreal mayor, charged with corruption and breach of trust, has always maintained his innocence

Hugo Tremblay, once ex-Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum's right-hand man, testified against his former boss in the corruption trial. (Radio-Canada)

A former political aide to Michael Applebaum who is a key witness in the ex-Montreal mayor's corruption trial admits he spent illegally obtained cash on drugs and extravagant vacations.

On Thursday, Hugo Tremblay was cross-examined by defence lawyer Pierre Teasdale for a third consecutive day.

Tremblay worked as Applebaum's political aide and later chief of staff between 2006 and 2012, when Applebaum  was the borough mayor of Montreal's Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood.

​Applebaum is on trial for conspiracy, breach of trust and two forms of corruption: municipal corruption and fraud on the government. All the charges date back to his time as borough mayor.

Applebaum has always maintained his innocence.

'Single at 30, with a stack of cash'

The defence lawyer attempted to shake Tremblay's credibility in court on Thursday by highlighting his lifestyle choices and his use of drugs.

Tremblay admitted to trying marijuana and cocaine in the past, but said his use of cocaine 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," Tremblay said.

He added that he used to live a quiet live with his partner, but when they separated, things changed.

"Did I go out more often when I became single at 30 with a stack of cash? Yes."

It's not my lifestyle that created corruption, it's corruption that created my lifestyle.- Michael Applebaum's former aide Hugo Tremblay

Earlier this week, the trial heard that when Tremblay was working for Applebaum and earning thousands of dollars in cash illegally, he'd spend it on extravagant vacations to places like Argentina and Costa Rica.

But Tremblay said following Applebaum's arrest, he left his job at the borough and stopped travelling because "there was no more money."

Former Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum arrives at the courthouse accompanied by his defence team on Monday, Nov. 14, 2016 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Willing to take polygraph test 

The former political aide, who turned on Michael Applebaum to help investigators, told the Quebec court he'd be happy to take a polygraph test to prove he's telling the truth about how his former boss orchestrated a strategy of corruption.

On Thursday, Teasdale challenged him on his version of events, pointing out how it's changed over the years, since his formal statement to police in the spring of 2013.

"I offer again to go outside the room with a journalist and take a polygraph," Tremblay answered.

Earlier this week, Tremblay told the court that it was Applebaum who taught him to ask real estate promoters and engineering firms for cash in exchange for approving their projects. 

The first time Tremblay participated in one of these deals, he testified, was in 2007 when he met real estate promoter Anthony Keeler in a café to negotiate a sum.

Tremblay said he explained to Keeler there was some opposition to his plans for a real estate project in the borough, but in exchange for $35,000, Applebaum's administration would support it.

However, the defence questioned Tremblay's testimony that the aide was simply doing what his boss asked.

Teasdale pointed out that Tremblay decided "unilaterally," without consulting Applebaum, to drop the asking price from $50,000 to $35,000.

"I lowered the amount with the hope that I would have a better chance of obtaining a yes and pleasing my boss," Tremblay answered.

When he was asked why he was so willing to do something illegal, the key witness answered: "I didn't think I could say no."

"I was 27 or 28 years old.… I was trying to build a career."

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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