ZAMPINO TAKES STAND

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - RENÉ BRUEM­MER rbruem­mer@post­media.com twit­ter.com/rene­bruem­mer

De­nies grant­ing favours in of­fice

Frank Zampino, once the sec­ond most pow­er­ful man at Mon­treal’s city hall after the mayor, took the stand Tues­day and em­phat­i­cally de­clared his in­no­cence at the Con­tre­coeur fraud trial.

He out­lined his du­ties as chair­man of the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee from 2002 to 2008, ex­plain­ing that most ad­min­is­tra­tive de­ci­sions for the Con­tre­coeur land site were taken by the em­ploy­ees with the city’s para­mu­nic­i­pal real-es­tate arm, and not politi­cians. He also be­moaned the fact city coun­cil­lors and bu­reau­crats fear speak­ing with con­stituents and busi­ness de­vel­op­ers in the post-Char­bon­neau era, put­ting a freeze on de­vel­op­ment.

Zampino was ar­rested in 2012, along with for­mer con­struc­tion mag­nate Paolo Cata­nia and four mem­bers of his Con­struc­tion Frank Cata­nia et As­so­ciés Inc. firm on charges in­clud­ing fraud and con­spir­acy. The charges were linked to the sale of a 38-hectare piece of land in east-end Mon­treal known as the Con­tre­coeur site. Mon­treal civil ser­vants tes­ti­fied ear­lier the land should have sold for at least $20 mil­lion to de­vel­op­ers hop­ing to build 1,800 res­i­den­tial units on the site. In­stead, the city’s real-es­tate arm, the So­ciété d’habi­ta­tion et de développe­ment de Mon­tréal (SHDM) sold the land to Cata­nia for $4.4 mil­lion in 2007. The SHDM said the price was heav­ily dis­counted due to the cost of land con­tam­i­na­tion.

Deal­ing with a se­vere hous­ing short­age that left hun­dreds of fam­i­lies home­less in the early 2000s and un­der con­stant fire from the op­po­si­tion par­ties, the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Mayor Gérald Trem­blay was des­per­ate to cre­ate more hous­ing, par­tic­u­larly so­cial hous­ing, Zampino tes­ti­fied. The Con­tre­coeur site was seen as a golden op­por­tu­nity be­cause it was city owned, and thus the city had more power to en­tice de­vel­op­ers to in­clude more so­cial hous­ing.

The man­date was given to the SHDM to fig­ure out a way to de­velop the site, prefer­ably with 60-per­cent so­cial hous­ing. Zampino stressed that the SHDM, an in­de­pen­dent para­mu­nic­i­pal body with its own board of direc­tors, took all de­ci­sions re­gard­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the site. Politi­cians, he said, mainly pro­vide the di­rec­tion the city wants to take and try to en­sure deadlines are met. It’s civil ser­vants and city ad­min­is­tra­tors who dic­tate how it’s done, he said.

So while Trem­blay gave Zampino re­spon­si­bil­ity for para­mu­nic­i­pal or­ga­ni­za­tions and the Con­tre­coeur de­vel­op­ment site be­cause as head of the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee he could co-or­di­nate the mul­ti­ple mem­bers of the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee that would be in­volved in a file that in­cluded every­thing from in­fra­struc­ture to en­vi­ron­ment, all re­spon­si­bil­ity for or­ches­trat­ing the deal fell to the SHDM, Zampino said. Specif­i­cally, he said the re­spon­si­bil­ity for day-to-day op­er­a­tions of the deal fell to Mar­tial Fil­ion, ex­ec­u­tive director of the hous­ing agency. Fil­ion, who was also ar­rested in 2012 in con­nec­tion with the case, died in 2013 be­fore the trial be­gan.

“Wit­nesses … say you took steps to favour Con­struc­tion Frank Cata­nia et As­so­ciés Inc. firm in this project. Do you have any­thing to say about that tes­ti­mony?” Zampino’s lawyer Is­abel Schur­man asked. She men­tioned Michel Lalonde, for­mer head of the en­gi­neer­ing firm Génius Con­seil, who tes­ti­fied his com­pany won $180,000 in con­tracts at the Faubourg Con­tre­coeur de­vel­op­ment project thanks to his ties to Zampino and con­tri­bu­tions to Trem­blay’s Union Mon­treal party.

“Your honour … I can tell you clearly that I never took any steps to favour Con­struc­tion Frank Cata­nia or Mr. (Paolo) Cata­nia or any other per­son in this file,” Zampino said. “I never did give any or­ders to any­one or take any steps in that re­spect.”

Ear­lier in his tes­ti­mony, Zampino said much of his job as ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee chair­man in­volved help­ing ci­ti­zens or busi­ness de­vel­op­ers who were hav­ing trou­ble ad­vanc­ing their files, but that kind of aid has come to an end after the Char­bon­neau Com­mis­sion into con­struc­tion fraud.

“The best im­age I can give you is that (city of­fi­cials) are just in their glass tow­ers to­day and no one is meet­ing the peo­ple who are do­ing busi­ness with the city,” he told Court of Que­bec Judge Yvan Poulin.

“It’s a nec­es­sary evil but it’s an un­for­tu­nate thing … in that there is noth­ing crim­i­nal, there is no bad in­tent in meet­ing any­one who is do­ing busi­ness with the city.”

Files and projects no longer get done at city hall due to “pru­dence and fear,” he said.

The trial be­fore judge alone be­gan in Fe­bru­ary 2016 and is ex­pected to con­tinue un­til Oc­to­ber. The pros­e­cu­tion called 56 wit­nesses, fin­ish­ing in July. The de­fence be­gan with their wit­nesses Tues­day, with Zampino the first to take the stand.

JOHN MA­HONEY

For­mer Mon­treal ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee chair­man Frank Zampino leaves the court­room with lawyer Is­abel Schur­man dur­ing a break in the Con­tre­coeur cor­rup­tion trial at the Palais de Jus­tice Mon­day.

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