Montreal

'When will it end?' Frank Zampino says he's being persecuted by Crown

"Appalled" and "humiliated" by the "legal limbo" he finds himself in, the former second-in-command at Montreal city hall is asking the court to scrap his second criminal trial on fraud and corruption charges.

Montreal's former 2nd-in-command seeks stay of proceedings in next fraud and corruption trial, set for fall

Frank Zampino leaves SQ headquarters after being arrested by UPAC, Quebec's anti-corruption unit, May 17, 2012. Police arrested nine people in a sweep that nabbed several former key members of ex-mayor Gérald Tremblay's inner circle. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

"Appalled" and "humiliated" by the "legal limbo" he finds himself in, the former second-in-command at Montreal city hall is asking the court to scrap his second criminal trial on fraud and corruption charges.

In a 38-page motion obtained by Radio-Canada, Frank Zampino has asked for a stay of proceedings, claiming an abuse of process and unreasonable delays.

The one-time chair of Montreal's executive committee described himself as a broken man at a hearing on that motion on April 18 before Quebec court Judge Joëlle Roy.

"I wake up every morning before 6 o'clock, and look past the curtains to see if there is a [police] car out there to arrest me," said Zampino.

'Lack of prosecutorial compassion'

It's been more than a decade since Zampino abruptly left his job at Montreal city hall, after two decades in municipal politics. Four years later, in 2012, he was taken into custody, charged with fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust.

Zampino had been accused of using his political influence to help construction magnate Paolo Catania secure a contract to build a housing development on city-owned land in Montreal's east end in 2007, in what became known as the Faubourg Contrecoeur affair.

He and his co-accused were acquitted of all charges in May 2018.

Frank Zampino, seen here with a member of his legal team in 2016, was acquitted in May 2018 on charges related to the 2007 Faubourg Contrecoeur land deal in Montreal's east end. (CBC)

It was while Zampino was still in the middle of his cross-examination in the Faubourg Contrecoeur case in September 2017 that he was arrested on a new set of charges.

In a letter to the Crown at that time, Zampino's legal defence described that arrest as "an abusive and unprecedented affront to the values of fair play and decency which define our system of criminal justice."

At worst, his lawyers said, the Crown "consciously chose to accuse him in another file for the purpose of making it as difficult as possible for him to defend himself."

At best, they said, "the prosecution simply paid no mind to the possible prejudice such an arrest would cause."

"Did they do this to destabilize me?" Zampino asked the court during his testimony last month. "To get me on my knees?"

He accused the Crown of "a lack of prosecutorial compassion."

Zampino is being sued by the City of Montreal for his role in the $356-million water meter contract cancelled in 2009.

He said the possibility that he could be arrested yet again in connection with that scandal or in relation to some other police investigation still hangs over his head. He said it is a source of constant psychological stress.

"When is this all going to end?" he asked.

"I am in legal limbo."

Frank Zampino spent more than two decades in municipal politics. He was arrested in 2012 on corruption and fraud charges and acquitted on those counts six years later, in 2018.

'Most powerful man in Montreal'

The second set of charges stems from another branch of UPAC's investigation into municipal corruption, dubbed the "Fronde project."

Zampino is accused of playing a key role between 2002 and 2008 in the doling out of municipal contracts to engineering firms, allegedly in return for political financing and other favours.

During the Charbonneau Commission, which investigated corruption in the awarding of public contracts linked to Montreal's construction industry, a former chair of the engineering firm Dessau, Rosaire Sauriol, described Zampino as "the most powerful man in Montreal."

Bernard Trépanier, seen here as he arrives to testify at the Charbonneau Commission in 2013, died in August 2018. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

His trial on the second round of charges is set to begin on Sept. 30.

His co-accused are:

  • Normand Brousseau, ex-employee of HBA Technika.
  • Robert Marcil, former City of Montreal manager.
  • Danny Moreau, ex-vice-president of Groupe SM.
  • Kazimierz Olechnowicz, ex-CEO of CIMA+.
  • Bernard Poulin, ex-chair of Groupe SM.

Initially seven people were charged. One of them, long-time Union Montréal fundraiser Bernard Trépanier, died in the summer of 2018. A seventh man, the former vice-president of CIMA+, Yves Théberge, has already pleaded guilty to fraud and corruption in relation.

Zampino has always maintained his innocence.

'Staggering' financial burden

The allegations and the negative media attention have left his reputation — and his finances — in ruins, Zampino testified in April.

In the months following his 2012 arrest in the Contrecoeur-Faubourg affair, "he was faced with the closure of his bank accounts, credit facilities and credit cards, even though it had not been proven that he had committed any crime," his defence team states in the motion for a stay.

He'd done business with that financial institution for 30 years, Zampino testified, but his bankers advised him they could no longer keep him as a client, due to the "reputational risk."

"They cancelled my credit card," he said.

A chartered accountant by profession, Zampino said he couldn't work, as he was working full-time on his defence — first in the Contrecoeur case and now, in preparation for the Fronde trial.

"I work seven days a week," on the case, Zampino told the court. Since his troubles began more than five years ago, he's earned just $60,000, he said.

He has gone through most of his savings, and he's had to sell his house.

"The financial burden on an individual in this situation is staggering," says Zampino's legal counsel in the motion for a stay of proceedings.

It's a "humiliating" situation, Zampino said. He attempted to start a business venture to support his family, his lawyers said, but when he was charged a second time, his name was back in the news, and once again, the banks pulled his credit — not just his, but "also the personal bank accounts and mortgage accounts of members of his family involved in the new company."

One of his sons had to switch careers as a result, Zampino told the court, his eyes brimming with tears.

Frank Zampino and Gerald Tremblay made the cover of the Montreal-based Italian monthly magazine La Voce when Tremblay's Union Montréal was re-elected in 2005. (La Voce)

Second trial justified, says Crown

In his motion for a stay, Zampino's defence team describes the lengthy delays in charging him, the "constant battle" to get information from the Crown about the likelihood and timing of future charges, and the overlapping investigations as an "abuse of process" which prejudices his right to a fair trial.

"Ten years [have] elapsed since the beginning of the Fronde investigation," his defence states, "and, to this day, the remaining branches of Fronde and other investigations remain shrouded in obscurity, with the State steadfastly refusing to allow the Applicant the basic fairness of knowing what he is facing."

However, Quebec's Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) says the second trial is completely justified.

"Just because Mr. Zampino was a powerful person at the City of Montreal, that doesn't compel the Justice Ministry to lay a single accusation against him for all the wrongdoing, all the crimes he's alleged to have committed," Crown prosecutor Julien Tardif said in court.

"We can't mix apples and oranges. If we did, we'd never be able to prove the existence of a conspiracy."

Judge Roy is deliberating on Zampino's motion for a stay of proceedings, and it's not yet known when her decision will be released.

With files and translation by Loreen Pindera

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