11/26/2012 03:03 EST | Updated 01/26/2013 05:12 EST

Ex-Montreal construction boss describes bid rigging system

A former construction boss, who says he was prevented from bidding on city contracts because he wasn't Sicilian, told Quebec's corruption commission that collusion has been present at Montreal's city hall for decades.

"It's been 33 years that I've been in business. It's been 30 years that I've known there's collusion at the city of Montreal," said Piero Di Iorio, former Vice-President of the now defunct Excavations D.P.

Di Iorio, whose family comes from the Abruzzo region of Italy, said he had been told since he was 18-years-old that he wasn't allowed to bid on public works contracts because it was assumed they would go to companies owned by Sicilians, including Frank Catania and Nicolo Milioto.

'Like in the movies'

Di Iorio described one incident, he said was "like in the movies," when he decided to buck the system and bid on a contract for road work in front of his company's offices on Henri Bourassa Boulevard in the late 1980s.

He called up another construction boss, Joey Piazza, to let him know he'd be bidding on the work, "to be polite."

"Five minutes after I made the call, Joey Piazza was at the front door and his brother was at the back," Di Iorio said.

He said he pushed Frank Piazza out of the way and ran to his truck with his bid paperwork in hand. He then raced toward city hall to get it in by the 2 p.m. deadline.

Di Iorio said when was on Viger Street, another brother of Piazza pinned his vehicle against a wall near the entrance to the Ville Marie tunnel to prevent him from turning in the bid.

He described climbing out the vehicle window. He said a man, who identified himself as an RCMP officer, approached and escorted Di Iorio to city hall to turn in his paperwork.

"Unfortunately, we came in second," he said. "I think it was F. Catania who got the contract for that project in front of our office."

Di Iorio said he was under bid because the companies always had two offers ready, just in case someone came in at the last minute and tried to scoop the contract.

He filed a complaint against Joey Piazza. But not long after, two men came to his office and told his father to back off.

Di Iorio said his mistake was notifying Piazza of his intentions, but if he hadn't and he won the contract, he would have had to live with the consequences.

Salesman refused to pay kickbacks

Earlier this morning, a sales director from a PVC pipe company told the commission that he offered perks to city officials, including a hunting trip and meals, but he saw that as the cost of doing business.

"We have our expense accounts and we're there to make friends," Michel Cadotte told the commission Monday morning.

"I think it's acceptable with our distributors, with other businesspeople, but with people from the city, with elected officials, I think it was a mistake."

Cadotte, who spent more than a decade trying to convince the city to purchase his company's PVC pipes for its sewers and water mains, said he finally thought he'd broken into the market when the head of public works sent a memo to staff to stop using iron pipes and only use his company's PVC in 2006.

The directive came shortly after Cadotte met with construction bosses Paolo Catania and Nicolo Milioto. The latter has been described as the so-called middleman between the city, the Montreal Mafia and the construction industry.

However, Cadotte's plans for city contracts went south, he says, after he refused to pay $150,000 for kickbacks for city staff, requested by Milioto.

After he refused, the city issued new recommendations that didn't include his product, the commission heard.

Last week of testimony before break

This is the last week the corruption commission will sit before breaking for the holidays.

The chief prosecutor requested the break at the commission hearing this morning. The hearings will start again Jan. 21.

Other witnesses, who haven't been identified, are scheduled to testify this week and are expected to talk about the process of awarding contracts at the city.