The former right-hand man of the mayor of Montreal, Frank Zampino, was arrested Wednesday.
Credits: JOEL LEMAY/AGENCE QMI
MONTREAL -- Quebec's anti-corruption unit struck at the heart of the City of Montreal's administration Thursday, arresting nine people, including Frank Zampino, Mayor Gerald Tremblay's former right-hand man.
Zampino, 53, is the highest-ranking politician arrested so far by Quebec's anti-corruption unit that's sniffing out mafia infiltration of organized crime and kickbacks to political parties at all levels.
Police say Zampino masterminded a scheme to deflate the value of 38 hectares of land and sell it to construction contractor Paolo Catania.
He was arrested at 6 a.m. at his residence in the borough of Saint-Leonard, Que., where he once served as mayor.
Catania was arrested Wednesday night at Trudeau Airport, where it appears he was trying to board a plane.
It was revealed in 2008 that SHDM, the city's housing corporation, sold the plot of land for $4.4 million even though the market value was $31 million.
The reduction was based on the pretext the lands were heavily contaminated, which was found to be false.
"Mr. Zampino was the president of the executive committee for the City of Montreal and he was responsible for SHDM and the (land) development," provincial police Insp. Denis Morin told a news conference. "We consider him to be the head of scheme."
The suspects face a total of 30 charges including fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust. Catania's firm, Catania & Associates Inc., is also charged.
The arrests affect the Union Montreal team assembled by the mayor since the early 2000s.
Bernard Trepanier, who was director of party fundraising between 2004 and 2006, was among those arrested as was Martial Filion, former CEO of the housing corporation.
Police confirmed Thursday that they have spoken with Tremblay but wouldn't provide further details.
The mayor acknowledged the arrests were "serious" but tried to isolate himself from the alleged corruption at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
"The events in question date back several years," he said. "My administration has implemented a host of measures to counter collusion, corruption and conflicts of interest. Now you must let the judicial process take its course."
The land deal in question also included financial incentives for construction magnate Tony Accurso, a friend of Zampino and one of Quebec's most powerful businessmen.
Accurso hosted a number of prominent Canadian politicians on his luxury yacht in the Caribbean, including Zampino and his family.
Accurso and 14 others were arrested last month in an alleged bid-rigging and bribery ring linked to the Montreal suburb of Mascouche, Que.
Zampino courted controversy after he left politics in 2009 when he was quickly hired by the Dessau firm, one of Accurso's business partners in a huge Montreal water-meter contract.
Tremblay later cancelled the contract awarded under Zampino's watch after an audit revealed a $245-million cost overrun and an inadequate bidding process.