Tony Accurso part of 'immense system' of corruption in Laval, Crown says

The Crown has wrapped up its opening arguments in the trial of former construction magnate Tony Accurso, accusing him of being part of an "immense system" of corruption in Laval.

Former construction magnate on trial for fraud, conspiracy, breach of trust, corruption

The Crown prosecutor says Tony Accurso, seen here in 2012, was involved in a municipal contract scheme in Laval. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Former construction magnate Tony Accurso was part of an "immense system" of corruption in Laval, the Crown said in opening arguments, as the long-awaited trial began Thursday in a Laval courtroom.

Accurso, 65, faces charges of fraud, conspiracy, breach of trust and corruption in the trial, expected to last two months.

Crown prosecutor Richard Rougeau told Superior Court Justice James Brunton and jurors Thursday that the corruption scheme essentially eliminated all competition for municipal contracts in Laval, and citizens paid the price.

Along with Accurso, 36 other people were arrested in a sweep in 2013, but some have since died or have seen charges against them dropped.

Many others, including former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, have since pleaded guilty. Accurso is the only one to go to trial.

Rougeau told the jury that Accurso was close to Vaillancourt, who he called the mastermind of the scheme.

He said the scheme involved politicians, bureaucrats and construction companies and that it was "so simple, it was surprising that it was able to continue for 14 years."

Awarding of contracts

For years, Vaillancourt and a group of top bureaucrats would decide in advance which companies would be awarded municipal contracts before there was even a call for tenders, said Rougeau.

He said the winning company would be informed through intermediaries, and that company would then let others bidding know that it had won.

Those companies would then submit higher bids than the chosen firm during the call for tenders, guaranteeing that company would secure the contract.

Rougeau said the winning company would then kick back cash, paid through intermediaries in "brown envelopes" to the bureaucrats and Vaillancourt.

Rougeau said two of those intermediaries who allegedly collected money in the scheme will be called to testify as key witnesses.

He told the jurors they will also hear from bureaucrats and entrepreneurs allegedly involved in the scheme.

Witness describes how bids were fixed

The first witness to testify was Gilles Théberge, a former top executive for an asphalt company called Sintra.

Théberge has never been charged in the case but admitted to participating in the scheme.

He testified that in his experience, the winning bids for municipal construction contracts would be decided in advance.

If it was just one company submitting a bid, that might look bad.- Crown witness Gilles Théberge

Companies and bureaucrats would work together to rig the process.

Théberge said when his company was awarded a certain contract, he would receive a call from Claude Deguise, the former head of engineering for the City of Laval who has already pleaded guilty in the case.

Théberge said he would then come up with an amount for his bid.  

He told the jury he'd then contact other companies bidding on the contract and tell them to ensure their bids were slightly higher, guaranteeing that his company would eventually secure the contract.

Rougeau asked Théberge why, if the process was fixed, it was even necessary for multiple companies to submit bids.

"If it was just one company submitting a bid, that might look bad," Théberge replied.

Théberge's testimony continues.