Zampino glad to set record straight
Five years after he was arrested on charges of fraud and conspiracy, the man once considered Montreal’s second most powerful politician told the judge he was happy to finally have his day in court in order to set the record straight.
In addition to declaring himself innocent, former executive committee chairman Frank Zampino said he wanted to clear up the widely disseminated assertion that the city sold a 38-hectare piece of land in east-end Montreal valued at $20 million for only $4.4 million to developer Paolo Catania.
In fact, he said, the Contrecoeur land was only worth $4.4 million after the costs of land decontamination and other infrastructure contingencies — which totalled $14.7 million and were covered by the developer — were factored in. Ultimately, the city’s real estate agency negotiated a sales price of $19.1 million, minus the land decontamination costs, and got fair market price, he said.
“I’m glad I have a chance to speak today because I haven’t spoken since charges were laid against me five years ago, and I was waiting for this day,” Zampino said on the second day of his testimony before Quebec Court Judge Yvan Poulin on Wednesday. “(These were) things that were mentioned over and over and over again … and basically it hurts me that we can associate these things when one has nothing to do with the other.”
Quebec’s anti-corruption force, UPAC, arrested Zampino, Paolo Catania and seven others in 2012 on charges of fraud and conspiracy in what the police said was a bidrigging scheme dating back to the mid-2000s that defrauded taxpayers of $1 million.
The case has been in court since February 2016, but it was only last March that witnesses started testifying for the prosecution, after 13 months of motions, mainly by the defence requesting the prosecution disclose more evidence.
Zampino took the stand as the first witness for the defence Tuesday. He said that, as a politician, he had little to do with the overall organization of the sale of the Contrecoeur land site to Paolo Catania’s construction firm. Most of that work was done by the city’s bureaucrats and members of the city’s real estate agency, the Société d’habitation et de développement de Montréal (SHDM), which runs independently of the city.
HARD TO SELL
As a politician in an administration determined to increase the availability of social housing, Zampino said his mandate was to impress upon bureaucrats that the city wanted the sale to go through. Martial Fillion, the former head of the SHDM, told him repeatedly that the city’s goal of having 60 per cent of the development site reserved for social housing would make it hard to sell to developers, because it would significantly lower their profit margins. Fillion, who was also charged with fraud and whose name has come up repeatedly among witnesses who cited irregularities in the land deal, died in 2013.
Using numerous city documents as evidence, Zampino showed that details regarding the Contrecoeur sale were public knowledge and approved by both the city’s executive committee and city council. The details of the sale, including having the city cover roughly $15 million for land decontamination, vibration mitigation measures and a sound barrier, were spelled out in the city’s capital works budget, which was voted on in council. Zampino also detailed numerous transactions in which the city covered land decontamination costs in order to facilitate the construction of social housing projects.
Among the 56 witnesses called to testify for the prosecution, former engineering firm executive Michel Lalonde has been the most damning for Zampino, testifying that the politician and others intimated at a political fundraiser and a lunch that Catania’s company was their choice to win the Contrecoeur contract. Lalonde was a star witness at the Charbonneau Commission, detailing how his firm provided financial contributions to Union Montreal fundraiser Bernard Trépanier in order to win city contracts.
Under cross-examination, however, Lalonde admitted he was never in a room with Zampino when political financing and collusion were discussed. None of the witnesses have presented evidence that directly implicates Zampino.
At the outset of his testimony, Zampino, presently unemployed, said he retired from politics in 2008 to pursue a career in the private sector as a chartered accountant.
“Unfortunately, I have spent the last several years in the situation that I am in,” he said. “That is not something I had provided for at the time.”
Former Montreal executive committee chairman Frank Zampino says he had little to do with the overall organization of the sale of the Contrecoeur land site to Paolo Catania’s construction firm.