09/16/2012 22:30 EDT | Updated 11/16/2012 05:12 EST

Quebec corruption inquiry readies for star witness

As Quebec's corruption inquiry gets underway again following the summer break, it's getting ready for testimony from one of the highest-profile mafia experts of the last two decades.

CBC's French-language news service reported last week that Joseph Pistone, the former FBI agent who infiltrated the New York Mafia under the pseudonym Donnie Brasco, will soon take the stand at the Charbonneau Commission.

The Montreal hearings, which are delving into criminal corruption in the province's construction industry and its ties to organized crime and political parties, have been on pause for three months.

They left off with five days of testimony from headline-grabbing witness Jacques Duchesneau, the onetime head of the Quebec's anti-collusion squad who now has a seat in the national assembly following the recent general election.

And they'll up the ante this week or next if, as expected, Pistone testifies.

The retired FBI agent infiltrated New York's Bonnano crime family between 1976 and 1981, then spent the following years testifying in several trials that led to more than 200 convictions. He had close access to high-level mafia figures; when he got out and his identity was revealed, the major New York crime families put a $500,000 bounty on his head.

Rizzuto ties

While Pistone's firsthand knowledge of the criminal underworld is dated and stems from the United States, it will still have some relevance to Quebec.

Pistone came across Montreal's big mafia family, the Rizzutos, during his time undercover. He writes about Nicolo Rizzuto, the patriarch of the Montreal mob who was assassinated in his own home in 2010, several times in his books.

And the Hollywood film about Pistone's work, Donnie Brasco, portrays the 1981 murder of three rebellious Bonnano family capos — a crime that Nicolo's son Vito, the reputed kingpin of the Montreal mob, had a role in and for which he has spent the last five years in a Colorado prison.

U.S. authorities consider the Rizzutos a Canadian branch of the Bonnano family, but Canadian law enforcers know the clan as gangsters whose power and reach once rivalled any of the big families of New York.

Whatever the exact hierarchy, Pistone will be able to describe mafia methods as the Charbonneau Commission investigates links between criminal organizations and construction companies. In his previous testimony in the U.S., he recounted how the Cosa Nostra's dons started branching out in the 1980s into more and more legitimate lines of business.

None of that will emerge Monday, however. The day is set aside for Superior Court Judge France Charbonneau, who's presiding over the hearings, to deal with procedural matters. Those will likely include setting rules to protect Pistone's identity during his eventual testimony, since he still lives in a cloak of secrecy.

Charbonneau and her co-commissioners will also hear from a mafia expert from Italy in the weeks to come. According to a report in the Journal de Montréal, the commission's lawyers have also solicited testimony from Raynald Desjardins, a former accomplice of Rizzuto who police accuse of being a principal figure in the city's world of organized crime. Desjardins is currently in jail, arrested last December on a first-degree murder charge.