Montreal's former city engineer golfed with Vito Rizzuto twice, but says they didn't talk shop

MONTREAL – A former City of Montreal engineer told a corruption inquiry on Monday that he golfed and dined with Vito Rizzuto on two occasions.

Gilles Surprenant said he had a week-long golfing trip in the Dominican Republic with Rizzuto, the man who reputedly headed the Montreal Mafia for years.

Surprenant told the Charbonneau Commission he also golfed with Rizzuto in Quebec but that they never discussed city business on either occasion.

The ex-engineer has admitted to collecting nearly $600,000 in kickbacks over a 20-year period. Inquiry investigators have identified at least 90 contracts where Surprenant took a cut.

One former construction boss earlier told the inquiry that Surprenant was known as “Mr. TPS” to Montreal construction companies.

Lino Zambito testified that Surprenant took a one per cent cut called a “TPS” — the name being a tongue-in-cheek twist on the French-language acronym for the federal sales tax, the GST.

Zambito said “TPS” stood for ‘Taxe Pour Surprenant’ (Tax for Surprenant).

Surprenant has not discussed the nickname in testimony thus far.

But as early as 1995, contractors had met with Surprenant to complain that the value of contracts in Montreal was too low and that companies were losing money because there was no profit margin.

“They were taking shortcuts, they were going bankrupt, they were constantly asking for extras,” Surprenant said.

Between 1995 and 2000, perhaps one contract a year was subject to collusion, he said.

Surprenant used his testimony Monday to correct a statement he made last week that he attributed to a construction magnate who reportedly told him that people who “prevent us from eating are ‘pushed aside’.”

Surprenant said the construction boss didn’t say ‘pushed aside’ but rather used the word ‘eliminated.’

“Honestly, I felt intimidated,” Surprenant said, visibly shaken.

Surprenant explained the correction by saying he felt intimidated and ill at ease with the 1991 encounter. It resulted in his first kickback of between $3,000 and $4,000.

“I was afraid of the consequences,” Surprenant said Monday.

Surprenant has been hesitant in his testimony, which has included numerous memory lapses. On Monday, he testified a second kickback of about $5,000 came in 1995, but he couldn’t recall who gave it to him.

The retired city engineer also confirmed part of what Zambito said during his eight days on the stand — that cuts were set aside for the Mafia and the governing party at Montreal’s city hall.

The equivalent of 2.5 per cent of contracts were going to “an criminal organization that met at Cafe Consenza,” Surprenant said, without naming the Mafia.

Meanwhile, three per cent went to the city’s “executive committee,” Suprenant said. The body is made up of elected officials from the governing party.

Surprenant even praised Zambito for being “courageous” in his testimony.

Zambito testified that the three per cent was going to Union Montreal, Mayor Gerald Tremblay’s party.

Earlier on Monday, commission head France Charbonneau urged the media to be cautious when revealing public information about witnesses.