Montreal

Cash-stuffed envelopes traded for NDG Sports Centre contract, engineer testifies

A Quebec court has heard how an engineer agreed to ferry thousands of dollars in cash to pay off the right-hand man of former Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum, in order to guarantee his firm would win a municipal contract.

Former Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum, on trial for corruption, breach of trust, maintains his innocence

Former Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum vowed to clean up corruption at city hall, but he was soon caught up in a scandal of his own and arrested by police seven months into his tenure. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian PRess)

A Quebec court has heard how an engineer ferried thousands of dollars in cash to pay off the right-hand man of former Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum, to guarantee his firm would win a municipal contract. 

Patrice Laporte, a former high-ranking executive at SOGEP, a subsidiary of the engineering firm Dessau, is the prosecution's second witness at Applebaum's corruption trial. 

One of two deals at the heart of the trial is a maintenance and management contract for the NDG Sports Centre. 

SOGEP made a bid for the contract in June 2010, and the witness told the court he learned the firm would have to offer kickbacks to politicians if it wanted to win it.

He testified that a few weeks after the company made its bid, he received a phone call from Hugo Tremblay, who was Applebaum's chief of staff at the time.

According to Laporte, Tremblay said if SOGEP didn't offer some extra cash, Applebaum might not approve its bid.

"We were a bit discouraged," Laporte said.

He told the court he consulted with his boss, Rosaire Sauriol, who decided they would pay $25,000 extra in exchange for the contract.

The contract was worth over a million dollars a year, according to documents submitted in court. 

Envelopes of cash handed over at Starbucks

Laporte testified that the firm deposited a bonus in his bank account, which he then removed over time, spreading out the withdrawals to avoid leaving a paper trial.

The court learned that Laporte and Tremblay met several times at Starbucks cafés and McDonald's restaurants to exchange the cash.

"We'd grab a coffee, we'd chat … then I'd pass him an envelope," Laporte said. 

During the defence lawyer's cross-examination, Laporte clarified that he never collaborated directly with Applebaum.

"Me, I had nothing to do with Mr. Applebaum," he testified.

​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.

Bluffing for extra cash

Earlier this week, the court heard from testimony from Tremblay, who said he bluffed to get executives at SOGEP to pay cash for the contract, even though they'd already won it.

Tremblay said he first asked Claude Asselin, a high-ranking executive at the firm, if he could offer something "extra" in exchange for the borough's approval.

Asselin refused, Tremblay testified, so he bluffed and said the contract could be in jeopardy if he didn't pay up, even though it had been approved.

When he was turned down again, Tremblay told the court he reached out to Laporte, with whom he had a closer relationship.

Tremblay told the court he would take the cash home and divide it in half, following Applebaum's instructions.

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

now