Prostitutes offered to Montreal city official, inquiry hears

MONTREAL – A Montreal municipal official was offered prostitutes’ services as a gift from construction companies, he testified Tuesday at Quebec’s corruption inquiry.

The suspended Montreal engineer said he received numerous bottles of wine, fancy dinners and hockey tickets — and he added that companies’ generosity sometimes got a little more personal.

Gilles Vezina testified that he was offered the services of an escort on at least two occasions by two different construction bosses in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

Vezina said the offers came after dinner with businessmen who then invited him to take an escort into a hotel room to end off the night.

Vezina told the inquiry that he never accepted the offer of prostitutes.

“I told them it didn’t interest me,” said Vezina, who was recently married at the time. “I wasn’t surprised (by the offer), but it didn’t interest me.”

Vezina said he didn’t know if other colleagues accepted the offer.

What Vezina did get over the years was hockey tickets, fancy dinners, golf outings and roughly 30 bottles of wine from company bosses each year.

The bottles were often delivered directly to his home.

Vezina repeated that despite the gifts, he was unaware of a cartel-like structure that existed in Montreal, helped along by colleagues who were on the take.

He said he knew nothing of the system where fellow city employees, who worked with him, have admitted to pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks over the years.

Gilles Surpenant and Luc Leclerc, two retired Montreal officials, have admitted to accepting all sorts of kickbacks and gifts in exchange for helping to fix contracts.

Vezina is still working for the city, although he is under suspension. He said he only learned of the kickbacks while hearing the two men testify in front of Quebec’s inquiry over the past few weeks.

On Monday, Vezina admitted that he had a chummy relationship with Mafia-linked contractors — having attended a birthday party for construction mogul Frank Catania and the marriage of a daughter of construction boss Nicolo Milioto, where he gave a $300 present.

He said receiving the gifts didn’t influence his decisions.

Vezina, who was Leclerc’s superior, was in charge of assigning Leclerc to different project.

A commission counsel asked why Leclerc was often assigned to work with certain companies, like that of Milioto — a construction boss who has been described by the inquiry as an intermediary with the Mafia and a municipal party.

But Leclerc’s boss brushed off any notion of impropriety.

He justified the high number of projects given to Leclerc, saying the engineer was fast and efficient.

Vezina was suspended by the city after his name came up in testimony during the corruption inquiry. The Charbonneau commission has spent the past several weeks exposing cozy ties between the Italian Mafia, construction companies, and corrupt municipal officials.

The mayors of two of the province’s biggest cities quit last week.

Allegations that Gerald Tremblay turned a blind eye to illicit financing of his municipal party prompted the Montreal mayor to resign. Tremblay denied that accusation, but said he was quitting for the good of the city.

Gilles Vaillancourt, mayor of Laval for 23 years, quit under a cloud of suspicion.

A former construction boss, Lino Zambito, testified that Vaillancourt received a kickback on contracts handed out in Laval. Vaillancourt denied those allegations and others aimed at him previously that he offered bribes to people involved in provincial politics.

That has prompted the provincial government to step in.

Vaillancourt’s party was so dominant that no opposition members were elected to city council, prompting concern about oversight of the municipal administration.

In Quebec City, Municipal Affairs Minister Sylvain Gaudreault announced Tuesday that an auditor would be assigned to oversee contracts handed out in Laval.

The auditor would look at all contracts handed out by the city, including those for planning and real-estate transactions. The person, who has not been named, would report back to Gaudreault periodically over the next year.

“The confidence of Laval residents has been badly shaken in recent months,” Gaudreault said in a statement. “I want to take action to revive confidence … I want to know what happens in Laval.”

In Montreal, an interim mayor will be chosen by secret ballot by city councillors on Friday. Montreal has two opposition parties and a handful of councillors who sit as independents.

Province-wide municipal elections are to be held in November 2013.