01/28/2013 11:17 EST | Updated 03/30/2013 05:12 EDT

Engineer says he had no choice but to donate cash to campaigns

A Montreal engineer who says he paid "political donations" to elected officials in exchange for access to lucrative contracts says he had no choice if he wanted to get any business from the municipalities.

"If we don't pay, we're not close to the elected officials. If we're not close to the elected officials, we won't be among the firms that are invited [to bid]… That is the real context. That's how it worked. That's the municipal level," Michel Lalonde told the corruption commission this afternoon.

"Would you say the financing of political parties was directly linked to the obtaining of contracts?" commission prosecutor Denis Gallant asked.

"I'd say yes," Lalonde replied.

The exchange came after the engineer, who has identified himself as the link between local engineering firms and former Union Montreal finance head Bernard Trepanier, listed several elected officials who he alleges asked for kickbacks or political donations in exchange for contracts.

Among those Lalonde implicated were:

- Joe Magri, former mayor of Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles

- Cosmo Maciocia, former mayor of Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles

- Michel Bissonet, mayor of St-Leonard

- Gilles Deguire, mayor of Montreal North

- Robert Coutu, mayor of Montreal East

- Jean-François St-Onge, borough councillor in Ahuntsic-Cartierville

He said all of them asked for cash donations for their political campaigns or the party's campaign fin ancing.

Magri asked for $15,000 cash during the 2009 election campaign, to be delivered to Nicolo Milioto.

Milioto has been described in previous testimony before the commission as the middleman between the construction industry and the Montreal Mafia.

"I met him and I gave him the $15,000," Lalonde told the commission.

In Ahuntsic, the former borough director Éric Lachapelle asked for hockey tickets in lieu of the three per cent cash payment, Lalonde told the commission.

Lalonde also said the requests for cash were not limited to the Union Montréal party.

He said Michel Petit, on behalf Vision Montréal councillor Benoît Labonté, asked for a $25,000 contribution during the 2009 election campaign. Lalonde said he was told that other entrepreneurs were also solicited.

$60,000 request

Lalonde said he was approached by Cosmo Maciocia in the spring of 2005 and asked to make the cash contribution because it was an "important election."

"He said, 'Look, I have a big election to prepare for. . . It will be an important election for me. I'm going to need help and I'm counting on you,'" Lalonde testified this morning before the corruption commission.

Lalonde said he found the $60,000 request to be high, but he was reassured by Maciocia that more borough contracts would be coming down the pipe after the election.

"He said, 'You're not the only one. I also asked Dessau for the same amount,'" Lalonde said referring to another engineering firm that also worked in the borough.

"I said, 'Okay. It's the borough where I work. I'm ready to support this.'"

Lalonde told the commission this morning more about a collusion scheme at Montreal City Hall involving alleged kickbacks to the Union Montreal party and collusion that he claims was happening further afield in the boroughs.

He said that he was frequently invited to submit bids in areas outside of his borough to ensure that more than one firm was on the official bidding record.

Lalonde said sometimes his firm would get work for smaller jobs as a result.

Big infrastructure contracts

Lalonde told the commission that he was involved in an arrangement with Union Montréal financing head Bernard Trépanier for five years, during which he acted as the link between the party and local engineering firms. Those firms agreed to pay back three per cent to the party in donations in exchange for winning big infrastrcture contracts, Lalonde testified.

The engineer told the commission he was involved in the process of selecting which firms would be put forward to the municipal selection committee for certain projects.

He said those tenders were for large municipal infrastructure renewal contracts that involved more than one engineering firm.

Lalonde went through a list of 10 contracts obtained by his firm – Génius conseil, formerly Groupe Séguin – for which he said his company paid three per cent of the value of the contract back to Trépanier as a political donation.

He said that those payments were made after the contracts were awarded and once the firms had gathered enough money together.

Lalonde said Friday that his company gave Trépanier between $50,000 and $100,000 a year between 2004 and 2009, when new legislation, a new police investigative squad, and a crack down at city hall made it too difficult for the arrangement to continue.

Even after Trépanier left Union Montréal in 2006, he continued to act as the coordinator of the plan and had access to a list of upcoming projects, Lalonde told the commission.