A construction boss, his memory gaps, and the Mafia: Witness grilled at inquiry - Macleans.ca

A construction boss, his memory gaps, and the Mafia: Witness grilled at inquiry


MONTREAL – A construction boss who pinned the blame for collusion scams on a simple municipal bureaucrat is now having his credibility shredded at Quebec’s corruption inquiry.

Joe Borsellino, head of Garnier Construction, was forced to explain inconsistencies and major memory gaps when questioned about the role of organized crime in the Quebec construction industry.

In one example on Wednesday morning, he couldn’t recall having deposited $1.8 million at the bank in 2004. By Wednesday afternoon, he admitted to making the deposit and blamed inquiry lawyers for the way the question had been phrased.

Under intense questioning, he also suggested the Mafia might play a role in Quebec’s construction industry and said he personally knew members of the Rizzuto crime family.

But Borsellino was short on specifics.

“It’s possible, but it’s not something that I’m 100 per cent aware of,” Borsellino said, repeating the vague type of answer he delivered frequently during a third laborious day of testimony.

When asked about personal relationships, he blamed a 2009 beating he received — Borsellino referred to it as an “accident” — for having caused memory problems.

Borsellino said he knew the Rizzuto family, but not well. He couldn’t recall whether or not he had been invited to a Rizzuto family wedding in June 1999. He was forced to admit he was present after being told police had noted his licence plate at the function.

But he was adamant he didn’t have ties to the Italian Mafia himself. As for the Mob’s role in the construction industry, he described it as “rumours” he didn’t explore.

He had little else to say about the attack in which three people beat him up in his office in July 2009. He spent seven hours on an operating table having his jaw rebuilt, but never filed a complaint with police.

He said he had no idea if the attack was linked to his business. There was no warning before the beating and no words uttered while it happened, he said.

He said he pondered while in hospital if it had to do with the purchase of paving equipment. Perhaps, he said, it was because he’d forgotten to pay some bills or bid on the wrong job.

One inquiry commissioner expressed exasperation: “You mean to say you spent seven hours on a hospital table and you don’t know why?”

Borsellino insisted he had never paid a “cut” to the Mafia and would have preferred to turn over the keys to his business than relinquish revenues to the underworld.

He did say he’d been inside Cafe Consenza, a known Mafia hangout, and had donated to a Sicilian community group based out of the club that organized fundraising events.

The medley of incomplete, contradictory answers came Wednesday as inquiry lawyers sought to poke holes in Borsellino’s claims of the previous day.

He had laid blame for Montreal’s crooked construction industry at the feet of Gilles Surprenant, a mid-level municipal bureaucrat.

On Wednesday, Borsellino conceded that a Montreal contract he lost had been rigged — although the man he accused of creating the crooked system, Surprenant, had nothing to do with that contract.

The businessman said he gave both Surprenant and another city official, Luc Leclerc, about $100,000 each over the years, while giving other city employees gifts like hockey tickets and bottles of wine.

Leclerc and Surprenant have admitted to taking bribes. But with the exception of Borsellino’s testimony, neither has ever been described as a mastermind of the collusion system.

Borsellino said a similar scheme was in play in Laval, but instead of a civil servant like Surprenant, the fraud was orchestrated by engineering firms.

He said the collusion didn’t extend to the provincial level.

However, he said companies were aware of who else was bidding on Quebec construction contracts and they tried to arrange their bids accordingly.

Borsellino was also questioned Wednesday about his motivations for taking Montreal’s former public works director to Italy in 2008.

Borsellino had said he took Robert Marcil to Italy to develop a business relationship following a series of cancelled contracts.

But inquiry counsel attempted to pick apart the claim that relations with the city were poor and needed some repairing.

Inquiry lawyer Simon Tremblay found a number of other reasons for the contracts being cancelled. In one case, a contract cited by Borsellino was actually not even located in the City of Montreal.

Tremblay suggested Marcil was actually invited to Italy as a thank-you for signing off on a $5.5-million contract that Garnier won in 2007, for emergency sewer work, without any bids.

He flatly declared that he didn’t believe Borsellino’s explanations related to the Italy trip.

“We know it’s not true,” Tremblay snapped at one point, expressing disbelief at Borsellino’s description of his relationship with the city.

Tremblay told Borsellino that a police wiretap picked up a conversation at the airport between Borsellino and Jocelyn Dupuis, a union boss, before they departed for Italy.

Dupuis is overheard asking for Marcil’s name because he had never met him before, Tremblay said.

“You told him he is the director of public works and he gave you a contract for $5.5 million last year,” Tremblay added.

Confronted with an alleged cash deposit in October 2004 of $1.824 million at a certain bank branch, Borsellino initially said he was unaware of such a transaction, before revising his story.

Meanwhile, commission officials have not confirmed whether the next witness will be Nicolo Milioto, a construction boss who has been described at the inquiry as the intermediary between the Mafia, municipal politics and the construction world.

Milioto has been present the last two days with his lawyer.

Milioto was allegedly seen by police at Cafe Consenza 236 times over two years.

Video surveillance showed him handing stacks of cash to the since-murdered Mafia don, Nicolo Rizzuto, who would promptly stuff the cash into his socks.

Police said they’d never heard of Milioto before, but later identified him as a key “middleman” between the construction industry and the Rizzuto clan.

Borsellino will return to the stand on Thursday when he will discuss political party financing.

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