05/29/2013 04:12 EDT | Updated 07/29/2013 05:12 EDT

City of Montreal sues for return of public funds

The City of Montreal has approved two lawsuits against groups that include, among others, former city engineer Gilles Surprenant and former construction boss Lino Zambito.

Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum this afternoon announced the lawsuits launched to recoup public funds.

Applebaum is seeking a minimum of $300,000 each from Zambito, Michel Lamonde and engineering firm Génius Conseil Inc. for “having modified their contract in an infrastructure project” and “having charged extras to the City of Montreal.”

The lawsuit stems from a sewer contract on Sherbrooke Street East in the Rivière-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles borough.

“On March 27, I announced that the city had just taken a first step in order to cover the money that was stolen from Montrealers,” Applebaum said in a press release.

Zambito and Surprenant were star witnesses at the province's corruption inquiry, the Charbonneau commission.

Both men made a number of allegations concerning kickbacks and the fixing of municipal construction contracts.

The other lawsuit names Surprenant, Joanne Martel, Luc Leclerc and Julie Surprenant and is related to Surprenant selling property to his ex-wife and daughter for $1 ahead of his testimony at the Charbonneau commission.

In Zambito's eight days of testimony at the Charbonneau commission, he alleged that Surprenant, a chief city planner for many years who prepared plans and budgets for public works projects, skimmed one per cent for himself on certain contracts.

Applebaum said a judge will first have to rule whether the immunity extended to inquiry witnesses is relevant to the city’s civil lawsuits.

"The legal department has told us very clearly that they have enough evidence and information. They're ready to go to court, and for that reason we decided to proceed with these two cases,” Applebaum said.

“There will be others that will be coming in the next weeks and the next months. And I've made a commitment to get back any money that was stolen from taxpayers."

Louise Harel of Vision Montreal said she supported any actions taken to recuperate stolen money and that reimbursement is necessary to restore citizens’ confidence in the city.

“But my fear is that these lawsuits would serve only to pay lawyers and take many, many years," she said.

She’s proposing to fine guilty parties and have the money go into a recuperation fund instead.