04/17/2013 11:16 EDT | Updated 06/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Defiant Zampino calls phone records 'erroneous'

The former head of the city's executive committee says that phone records showing hundreds of calls between him and the man witnesses describe as the middleman in a collusion scheme at city hall are misleading.

Frank Zampino, who left the city in 2008, told the province's corruption commission that of the 1,800 calls recorded between his phones and those of Bernard Trépanier between 2005 and 2011, he only spoke to the political fundraiser around 200 times.

One of the most highly-anticipated witnesses before the commission, Zampino spent the day detailing his political career, the workings at city hall and describing annual fundraisers held by his Union Montréal party.

Zampino's name has peppered the testimony of a stream of witnesses from the construction industry, many of whom have pointed to the former executive committee head as the man pulling the strings in a collusion scheme that allegedly saw large engineering firms paying big donations to the Union Montréal party in exchange for entry into a municipal contract sharing arrangement.

Bernard Trépanier, former Union Montréal fundraiser and the man witnesses pointed to as the middle man between Zampino and the industry, finished his testimony before the commission yesterday. The conclusion of his testimony was covered by a publication ban.

Zampino was pressed to answer questions about the phone records, produced by commission investigators.

He told the commission the majority of those calls went to a line accessible to his assistant and four other people in the office.

He said Trépanier often called to say hello to people in the office, some of whom he knew well.

Other times, Zampino said, the calls were terminated after a few seconds, which he said showed that Trépanier hung up when he reached voicemail.

Pulling out a large blue folder, an action that quickly netted him a warning by commission lawyers about the procedures of introducing evidence, Zampino said he and his lawyers had plotted the calls out on a calendar to analyze them further.

He said that calendar shows that calls were made on days when Trépanier knew Zampino was in a regularly scheduled council meeting or a meeting with the mayor, times when he would never answer his phone.

"The head of the executive committee or the mayor of Montreal doesn't have the time to take [hundreds of] calls. . . That would be every day," he said.

Others calls shown in the documents were made when Zampino said he was on holiday, a total of 88 days during those five years, and couldn't have spoken to Trépanier.

"To say that he called me 1,800 is fundamentally dishonest," he said.

With little interruption from the prosecutor, Zampino continued, saying that he was not impressed by suggestions of links between those calls, others on record with engineering bosses and the dates of contract selection committee meetings by commission lawyers.

Trépanier was a friend and one who was constantly making phone calls, he said.

When you deduct all of those calls that either weren't intended for or didn't reach Zampino, "you'll see that those 1,800 calls immediately drops to fewer than 200 calls," he said.

"Two hundred calls in four and half years – I don't think it's over the top for someone who is considered a friend."

Denies links to organized crime members

Earlier in the day, Zampino was pushed to answer questions about his links to reputed high-ranking members of the Montreal Mafia.

Zampino admitted he was invited to and attended weddings thrown by people allegedly linked to the Montreal Mob, though he denied knowing anything about his hosts' criminal backgrounds.

A defiant Zampino insisted that, as mayor of the St-Léonard borough, he received 40 to 50 wedding invitations a year and there was nothing untoward about them.

"The majority were refused," he said. "That's because if I accepted to attend all of those weddings, I'd be divorced because my wife always said that, 'You're the one in politics, not me.'"

Zampino was pressed on one particular wedding he attended – that of the son of Frank Cotroni to the daughter of Joe Di Maulo.

"The mayor of the borough of St-Léonard has no problem going to the wedding of the son of Frank Cotroni?" Commission prosecutor Sonia LeBel asked.

Zampino insisted he wasn't invited by Cotroni, but by the Di Maulo family. A Di Maulo cousin was involved in the election and insisted that Zampino attend the wedding, he said.

"When I accepted that invitation, I didn't do an investigation into the background of Mr. Joe Di Maulo," he said, adding that

"I take offence if this is being brought up to try and insinuate that I went to this wedding with an ulterior motive."

LeBel pressed Zampino on the optics of his attendance at that wedding.

"I'd be the first to tell you that when we're involved in election activities, perception is much more important than reality," he said.

"It wasn't the smartest decision to attend that wedding, but I'm telling you I had no ulterior motive."

Political beginnings

Zampino described his entrance to political life as a "fluke." He said a former mayor of St-Léonard came to him in the summer of 1986 and asked if he wanted to run for office.

He won a spot on council that year and later mounted a successful run for mayor in 1990 after a controversy over new business taxes divided the sitting mayor's party.

He served as mayor of the city of Saint-Léonard, and then of the borough in the amalgamated municipality, until 2008. In two of those elections, Zampino and several councillors were acclaimed and didn't have to mount election campaigns.

Ongoing criminal proceedings

A portion of Zampino's testimony will be covered by a publication ban because of ongoing criminal proceedings.

He was arrested and charged in a sweep by the province's anti-corruption unit last May, along with eight others including Paolo Catania, one of the province's biggest real estate developers.

The charges laid include fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust, all connected to the Faubourg Contrecoeur housing project in the city's east end.

Zampino was former mayor Gérald Tremblay's right hand man when he left municipal politics in 2008.

He also served as president of Montreal's transit authority for several years.

He was tied to several controversial contracts after he left politics, including a public water meter contract.

In 2008, allegations emerged that Zampino had spent time on Montreal business magnate Antonio Accurso's luxury yacht in 2007 and 2008. Around that time, Zampino had been in charge of awarding the $355-million water-management contract — Montreal’s largest-ever municipal contract — to GÉNIeau, a consortium that included Simard-Beaudry.

In 2008, Zampino left the mayor’s office and accepted a top executive spot with the engineering-consulting firm Dessau Inc., another company involved in the water-meter deal. Zampino resigned from his Dessau post in 2009, and has insisted that he never intervened in awarding the controversial water-meter contract.