01/29/2013 10:24 EST | Updated 03/31/2013 05:12 EDT

Borough mayors deny taking illegal campaign donations

Politicians named by corruption commission witness Michel Lalonde are defending their reputations after the Montreal engineer accused them of soliciting illegal political donations.

Lalonde told the commission yesterday that several borough mayors asked for cash for their election campaigns. He told the commission that had he refused, he wouldn't have been able to secure lucrative municipal engineering contracts.

He named several former and current borough mayors and local politicians whom he said asked for cash.

However, at last night's Montreal city council meeting, several of those named have denied any wrong doing, saying it was Lalonde who offered to support their campaigns.

Robert Coutu, mayor of Montreal East, said Lalonde offered him hockey tickets and money.

"I refused it completely," Coutu said.

Richard Bélanger, the mayor of L'Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, said he did nothing wrong and its unfortunate that he's left with no option other than to defend himself.

"I followed the rules that we have to follow in politics and today I'm treated like a criminal," he said.

He said Lalonde bought five tickets for a fundraising cocktail in the borough, totaling $1,000, and signed the cheque himself. He said it was all within the allowable donation limits at the time.

"We followed the rules to the letter," he said.

Lalonde told the commission Monday that he made cash donations, up to $60,000 in one case, so he'd have an in with elected officials and in turn would be eligible for contracts.

"'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]," he testified.

Lalonde has also testified that he acted as the liaison between engineering firms and Union Montréal financing head Bernard Trépanier in an arrangement to secure big infrastructure contracts for the firms.

In exchange, the firms would pay back three per cent of the contract value as a political donation to Union Montréal, he alleges.

Lalonde said he gave between $50,000 and $100,000 a year to the party between 2004 and 2009. It stopped, he said, when a crack down at city hall, a new provincial law and a new police anti-corruption unit made it too difficult to proceed.

Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum said the testimony before the commission is troubling for the Union Montréal party, elected officials and for the city of Montreal. He said everyone will have to wait and see what happens in the weeks and months to come at the commission.

Lalonde is expected to return to the stand today.