MONTREAL - Quebec’s most powerful construction boss admitted before a public inquiry into corruption in the province that he considered the head of the Montreal mafia, Vito Rizzuto, as a business contact.
Tony Accurso, who faces criminal corruption and fraud charges and is alleged to have been an influential figure in the illegal system of bid-rigging on municipal construction projects, was asked during his second day on the witness stand about his relationships with a series of Quebec union and business figures.
Among them, he classed the godfather, who died last year, and his son, Nick Rizzuto Jr., who was killed in a suspected mob hit, as “small contacts.” Accurso testified he never knew Nicolo Rizzuto, Vito’s father, who was killed by an assassin’s bullet in 2010.
Such a contact, Accurso said, is someone whom he would see on occasion and whose name was known to him. It was different from a “good contact,” which he described as someone with whom he would exchange telephone calls and speak with several times a year.
Earlier testimony at the Charbonneau commission has heard that the Montreal mafia refereed the construction firms which were part of a collusion scheme to win city contracts and inflate the prices to boost profits.
Video played at the very beginning of the inquiry showed known underworld figures and construction entrepreneurs meeting at Café Cosenza, a Montreal social club that served as a meeting place for the mob. The building was secretly being monitored by police investigators working on a major 2006 mafia probe.
A previous witness, construction boss Lino Zambito, has testified he was called to one of Accurso’s restaurants to discuss a business dispute. He arrived to find Vito Rizzuto and Accurso waiting for him and, after a long discussion, was convinced not to bid on the city contract at the heart of the dispute.
In Wednesday morning’s hearings, commission lawyer Sonia LeBel played several wiretapped telephone calls that spoke of the sway Accurso held over the leaders of Quebec’s largest union, the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ). In one recording, it was claimed that Accurso bribed the FTQ leaders with $500,000 to ensure workers would not be made available to another firm competing for a lucrative contract.
Accurso denied the accusation and claimed that the person making it was drunk at the time.
In a second wiretapped conversation it was claimed that Accurso had announced to one FTQ leader in advance that he would be made vice-president of the union. The two people caught in the conversation also complained Accurso was manipulating other FTQ leaders to further his own business interests.
Accurso again denied influencing internal union decisions, though he admitted that Jean Lavallée, former head of the FTQ’s construction wing, became one of his closest friends.
“I had always wanted a brother and Mr. Lavallée became a brother for me,” he told the inquiry.
Accurso denied he used that friendship to try and ensure a competitive advantage when it came time to secure workers for a construction project but said he would offer his opinion on union matters if he was asked.
When the first inklings of the Quebec corruption scandal began to emerge in 2009 and Accurso emerged as a major figure in media reports, his companies soon found that banks were suddenly unwilling to loan money to what was by far the largest construction empire in the province.
The titan had turned into a leper, but he was still able to turn to a union local under Lavallée’s control to secure capital.