Zampino glad to set record straight

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - RENÉ BRUEM­MER

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.”

DAVE SID­AWAY/FILES

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.

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