More than 120 police officers and civilian investigators swept into the sleepy bedroom community of Mascouche just before sunrise Tuesday and charged 15 people, including construction magnate Antonio Accurso, with fraud, corruption, bribery and conspiracy.
Robert Lafrenière, head of the anti-corruption squad UPAC, said the arrests represent a “major achievement” in Quebec’s battle against corruption and collusion in the awarding of government contracts.
“Today, UPAC has made an important step in the fight against corruption,” he said. “This morning, our investigation was successful and proves clearly that corruption is not tolerated in Quebec.”
The 18-month investigation, during which the Sûreté du Québec interviewed about 120 witnesses and seized hard drives and thousands of pages of data, ended with the 6 a.m. arrests. The suspects, who include a lawyer, businessmen and women and public officials, were transported to holding cells at the headquarters of the Sûreté du Québec on Parthenais St. in Montreal and later released.
Still at large is Mascouche mayor Richard Marcotte, 65, who is reported to be vacationing in Cuba. Police said he will be arrested as soon as he returns to Canada. “We don’t expect any difficulties (with him),” SQ Lt. Guy Lapointe said.
Accurso, whose family owns two of Quebec’s largest construction companies, was swarmed by dozens of photographers and cameramen as he left the Parthenais headquarters.
Police also charged the engineering company BPR Triax Inc., of Laval, and the construction company Transport et Excavation Mascouche Inc., which is owned by Normand Trudel, 59. Trudel was among those arrested Tuesday and charged with fraud, conspiracy, defrauding the government, attempting to influence a public official and breach of trust.
Lapointe said police executed warrants in Laval, Terrebonne and Mascouche where they cordoned off the entire city hall in yellow tape.
Police allege that, from 2005 to the present, the accused paid various “advantages” to city officials to obtain contracts relating to water installations.
“Roughly, we are talking about gifts – it could be money – advantages that are given to elected officials and public officials in return for advantages, and these advantages could be privileged information towards bidding on a contract,” Lapointe said. He refused to reveal the value of the “advantages” or the value of the contracts.
He said police have proof that “there were certain meetings where people discussed what they were going to do.”
Lapointe added that “every one who was arrested today had a role in this system, whether they were on the receiving end or the giving end, but in the end it comes down to a very simple (thing), if you give something you get something in return.”
He said companies that were not in the loop were victimized by the alleged crimes because they were “at a disadvantage when bidding for these contracts.”
Allegations of corruption against Marcotte, who has been Mascouche’s mayor for 20 years, first surfaced in a report by Radio-Canada in 2010. The network alleged that Normand Trudel and his company, Transport et Excavation Mascouche, had paid for renovations to Marcotte’s house. Between 2000 and 2009, the developer received $40 million in contracts from the city.
Marcotte has denied any wrongdoing. In January 2011, a majority of city councillors voted to demand his resignation, but he refused to step down.
La Presse has reported that Trudel’s companies received almost two-thirds of the construction and snow removal contracts for the city since 2007.
BPR-Triax Inc. is an engineering company owned by BPR Inc. which, in turn, is owned by Tetra Tech of California. It is a major contractor for Mascouche-Terrebonne.
Marcotte was a Liberal candidate in the 2003 provincial election. He lost and was later named to the board of Quebec’s police academy in Nicolet.
Lapointe said that some of the “gifts” allegedly received by Marcotte could be related to Accurso’s million-dollar yacht, the Touch, which the multimillionaire entrepreneur keeps in the Caribbean.
Accurso’s “specific role was that he would give advantages to public officials or elected officials in return for advantages for companies bidding on contracts,” Lapointe said.
The Touch has become a byword for corruption in Quebec. Both Marcotte and Frank Zampino, a former Montreal executive committee chairman, vacationed on the construction magnate’s luxury yacht in 2007 and 2008. At the time, Zampino was in charge of awarding a $355-million water-meter contract to a consortium of which Accurso’s company Simard-Beaudry Construction Inc. was a member.
Both Accurso’s major construction companies recently had their licences suspended. Quebec’s construction industry regulator, the Régie des Bâtiments suspended the licences of Louisbourg Construction Ltd. and Simard-Beaudry beginning Feb. 1 for up to five months after the companies were convicted of more than $4.2 million in federal tax fraud and found guilty of numerous infractions of the province’s health and work safety laws.
The regulator, however, allowed the companies to finish four contracts with the city of Montreal and one with Terrebonne-Mascouche because they are 99-per-cent completed.
Lapointe said the police began the investigation into Mascouche in October 2010 after two people came forward with allegations. He said that, while the Mascouche investigation is now over, there are ongoing investigations into neighbouring communities.
Also see article on CBC News website (with video)