Credits: JEAN-LOUIS FORTIN/LE JOURNAL DE MONTRÉAL/QMI AGENCY
The ex-bureaucrat confirmed earlier testimony from whistleblowing ex- contractor Lino Zambito, who said Surprenant was nicknamed "Mr. GST" for taking a 1% cut from construction deals.
"I estimate that maybe I received around $580,000 to $600,000," a nervous-looking Surprenant told the Charbonneau Commission.
Under intense questioning from inquiry counsel Claude Chartrand, Surprenant said he accepted his first cash-stuffed envelope in the early 1990s from Frank Catania, a major road and sewer contractor.
The witness said he accepted a brown envelope full of cash after one of Catania's projects was approved by Montreal's executive committee.
"Mr. Catania called me to his office and he gave me an envelope containing maybe $3,000 to $4,000," he said. "I accepted it. Maybe I made the wrong decision but I accepted his envelope. I made an error in judgment."
The witness cleared his throat multiple times as he said Catania once told him that helping contractors was how business was done in Montreal.
"He said, 'People who prevent us from eating, we squeeze them'," recalled Surprenant, who added that he feared repercussions if he didn't comply.
The commission has previously screened video clips that show Catania visiting mob patriarch Nick Rizzuto Sr. at the now-deceased mobster's Montreal social club.
Catania's son Paolo was among nine people arrested in May for his part in an alleged real-estate scam. Also arrested in the raids was Frank Zampino, Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay's former right-hand man.
Surprenant said he accepted cash from contractors every year from about 1990 until his retirement in 2009.
He said he used some of the money to renovate his house while other kickback funds helped to pay his daughter's way through beauty school. Other money went to a contractor who was having financial problems.
But Surprenant said he felt terrible about accepting the bribes and gambled away $300,000 at the Montreal Casino.
He also gave $123,000 directly back to the inquiry, whose staff entered the cash as evidence on Thursday.
"I was very happy to give the money back," Surprenant testified Thursday.
The commission has heard weeks of explosive testimony about links between contactors, public officials and the Mafia.
Zambito, a former sewer contractor, said the Mafia got a 2.5% share of construction contracts while Mayor Gerald Tremblay's Union Montreal Party got 3% and Surprenant skimmed 1%.