MONTREAL — A former aide to ex-Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum says it took just several months of working with him to come to the conclusion the longtime politician was open to kickbacks.
More than three years after his June 2013 arrest and ensuing fall from grace, Applebaum’s two-week fraud trial began Monday with his ex-chief of staff taking the stand.
Hugo Tremblay, the first of several Crown witnesses set to testify, recalled a conversation with the then-borough mayor in Tremblay’s office about requesting money from a developer to secure a project in 2007.
“We gotta make a living,” Tremblay, then a political aide, testified Applebaum told him.
“I realized at that moment that Michael Applebaum was open to corruption,” Tremblay testified.
The Crown said it intends to prove the longtime local politician accepted cash that was then allegedly used in political financing as well as for personal consumption in exchange for favours given to local real-estate developers.
He faces 14 charges including fraud, corruption and breach of trust. Applebaum has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The charges stem from Applebaum’s time as the mayor of Cote-des-Neiges/Notre Dame-de-Grace, the city’s largest borough.
Prosecutor Nathalie Kleber says she plans to call several witnesses including certain developers themselves.
In one such project, Tremblay said he was dispatched to seek payment from two developers hoping to build a student housing project dubbed Projet Troie.
Tremblay said Applebaum encouraged him to make the call, assuring him the contractor would understand what was being sought. Tremblay said Applebaum first suggested seeking $100,000 but Tremblay felt ill at ease and revised that number to $50,000 before finally asking for $35,000.
He testified the developer paid the money in three instalments in the form of cash stuffed in video game boxes, with the amounts then split between Applebaum and Tremblay during exchanges in their private vehicles.
The former political operative says his cash went to fancy dinners, clothes and travel.
Tremblay explained to the court it was Applebaum who coached him on how to set up illegal fundraising and seek cash from developers, telling him they’d understand an “extra effort” was necessary to get the project done.
Applebaum also served as interim Montreal mayor between November 2012 and June 2013 following the departure of Gerald Tremblay.
As for Hugo Tremblay, he quit working for the borough in 2012, saying he needed a change after five years.
The trial is being heard before a judge alone.