POLITICS

Alexandre Duplessis, Interim Laval Mayor, Quits Amid Prostitution Allegations

06/28/2013 08:58 EDT | Updated 08/28/2013 05:12 EDT
CP
MONTREAL - The Montreal area has seen a few mayors resign lately in scandals over money: one quit amid allegations of illegal party financing, another was arrested and charged with fraud, and one was even charged with gangsterism.

Now the area has had a mayor quit under entirely different circumstances.

This time it's about sex.

The interim mayor of suburban Laval, Alexandre Duplessis, announced he was stepping down Friday in a letter to the city clerk's office and said his departure would take effect immediately.

This was just six hours after Duplessis told reporters he would not resign after a controversy allegedly involving extortion and a prostitute.

"I never, never, never received sexual services," Duplessis said in a brief 8:30 a.m. news conference. "I did not solicit — I did not receive… I received nothing sexual. There was an attempt to extort me."

It's unclear what prompted the swift about-face.

But political rivals had spent the day urging him to step down. And media were scrutinizing the denial from Duplessis, a father of two, that he had ever solicited sex.

One TV network carried two on-air interviews with a woman claiming to own the escort agency involved.

The woman said there were dozens of cellphone text messages from the client. She said the man had requested an escort for his remote country cottage.

She said the customer asked if he could wear women's underwear, and whether the escort enjoyed white wine. When the woman's employee finally found the cottage after getting lost, they dressed up together, put on high boots, and did makeup, said the self-described owner.

"He really wanted to spend an evening as if they were girlfriends," said the agency boss, whose identity and face remained shielded during the interviews with the TVA network.

She said there was eventually a dispute about the $160-an-hour payment when the client wanted to take the woman out for a boat ride. The owner said she was dragged into the dispute, and spoke to the man by phone. Eventually, she said, the client kicked the woman outside "right into the woods."

The owner said she later spoke to provincial police and showed them the text messages, and said that only then did police inform her that the customer was the mayor of Laval. She told TVA that the police confirmed his identity through the cellphone number, and through other means but did not elaborate.

The network said there were 110 text messages and showed some of them on-screen. Initial details about the alleged encounter appeared in a TVA report Thursday.

The mayor did not discuss the details Friday, except to deny soliciting a prostitute.

Two spokespeople declined to address the details of the TVA reports — one for the city and one for a communications firm, who had been handling the mayor's public relations until Friday.

"I have no idea about that," said Pierre-Philippe Lortie, the PR firm spokesman who had fielded questions about Duplessis through Friday morning. "I'm not linked anymore to any files with Mayor Duplessis, so now he's a private citizen."

Both spokesman said they could not help reach — or provide contact information — for the departed mayor.

A new interim mayor will be chosen from the remaining group of city councillors. That person will hold the post until municipal election on Nov. 3.

That process begins next week.

The resignation of Laval's interim mayor came a week after the interim mayor of Montreal resigned. Both Duplessis and Michael Applebaum had been replacing scandal-plagued elected predecessors.

Applebaum quit after he was slapped with fraud charges, while maintaining his innocence and saying he would fight the charges.

Duplessis had sounded defiant earlier Friday.

His comments came one day after different news stories reported unconfirmed allegations he was involved in an encounter with an escort that went awry.

Police have confirmed that a man has complained about being extorted by a prostitute on June 14 — but they haven't identified the man.

They say the man got involved in a dispute with an escort about payment, and that there was an alleged extortion attempt afterward.

They say they plan to hand the case over to prosecutors for their consideration.

The case represents only the latest controversy involving a Canadian mayor following resignations, criminal charges and police investigations of municipal leaders in different cities.

Even for Duplessis, it wasn't the first time through the scandal-wringer.

The city was recently placed under provincial trusteeship after a witness at a provincial inquiry said Duplessis took part in illegal political financing when he was a councillor.

But he still sounded committed to staying in the job Friday morning.

"I will of course be continuing in my role as mayor," he said earlier in the day.

"I will not quit."

It's unclear whether political pressure played a role in changing his mind.

Laval city councillors had been convened for a meeting at city hall late Friday afternoon. Members of Laval's unelected opposition parties were, meanwhile, calling for him to quit.

Jean-Claude Gobe, a former Liberal MNA who has announced his intention to run for mayor this fall, had said Duplessis needed to step down out of respect for residents.

"I think it's pathetic," Gobe said in a phone interview earlier Friday.

"It's something that he needs to understand — that he no longer has the credibility or the moral authority (to stay on)."

Duplessis took over after longtime former mayor Gilles Vaillancourt stepped down last November after 23 years at the helm.

Duplessis was a councillor under Vaillancourt's now-defunct party, which held the majority — and often all — the seats on council for many years.

Once Duplessis took over, trouble began brewing again.

A witness at Quebec's corruption inquiry testified that practically all elected officials took part in illegal party financing, including Duplessis when he was a councillor.

The city was promptly placed under trusteeship by the Quebec government.

The interim mayor had vowed to stay on, even if all final decision-making would temporarily fall to the former Quebec provincial police chief named as trustee.

Duplessis had even hinted — before that damaging inquiry testimony — that he'd run for mayor in the November election.

On Friday, his opponents were questioning whether he should hold the job even on a temporary basis.

"It's a huge lack of judgment and honesty towards the population," said Marc Demers, a former police officer-turned-mayoral candidate. "The mayor is the first ambassador of the city, the brand of a city."

Another opponent said residents were being affected by the scandal-plagued administration: "I think morally, people are fed up. We're ashamed to be Lavallois and I think it's time he steps down," said Robert Bordeleau, another mayoral candidate.

-With files from Alexander Panetta

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