The man infamously caught on police surveillance video stuffing wads of cash into his socks at a Montreal Mafia hangout downplayed his links to the Mob during his first day testifying at the inquiry into corruption in Quebec’s construction industry.
Described by police as the "middle-man" between the industry and the Montreal Mob, retired construction boss Nicolo Milioto appeared initially demure as he took questions about his humble beginnings in the small village in Sicily, from which the Rizzuto clan and several key figures in the Montreal construction scene also hail.
During his testimony, Milioto became more animated, and defensive, when probed about his own links to organized crime.
Milioto told the commission Monday that he took money from another construction entrepreneur and brought it to the former Don of the Montreal Mob, but insisted he was merely doing a favour for a friend and didn't ask what the cash was for.
He told the commission he transported money “five or seven times” for construction entrepreneur Lino Zambito, whose own testimony before the commission last fall shed light on a system of municipal bid-rigging and kickbacks.
“Not once in the five or seven times did you ask Mr. Zambito, ‘Why are you giving this money to Nick Rizzuto Sr., the head of organized crime in Montreal?” commission prosecutor Sonia LeBel asked.
“It’s not my business to ask. I have my ideas.”
He went on to explain that he believed Zambito’s business was in trouble and he was paying back a debt.
Milioto later qualified that answer and said Rizzuto had never told him what the money was for.
'Mr. Sidewalk' and the Rizzuto clan
Milioto, who reportedly went by the nickname Mr. Sidewalk for the lucrative municipal contracts his company secured over the years, denied having any business relationships with the Montreal Mafia.
He met Nick Rizzuto Sr. when the mob boss returned to Italy on vacation. Milioto was just a teenager, but Rizzuto, who was several years older had already moved to Canada.
He said they met again at a wedding when they were both living in Montreal in the late '80s.
They often met for coffee at the Consenza Social Club or to play cards.
“Did you know his role in the Rizzuto clan?” LeBel pressed Milioto.
“I know what the papers said. But with me, he was a gentleman,” Milioto replied.
Milioto’s alleged links to the Mob made headlines in the fall when an RCMP officer testified before the commission that he was captured on police surveillance video 236 times at the Consenza Social Club, a once-popular Mafia hangout in Montreal.
That surveillance video was part of Operation Colisée, a massive police probe that concluded in 2006 and is considered the largest such investigation into the Mob in Canadian history.
The officer identified Milioto as a "middle man" between the construction industry and the once-dominant Rizzuto clan.
On the tapes, Milioto is seen accepting money from Zambito and shoving it in his sock. On another section of the tape, he is seen retrieving cash and handing it over to Rocco Sollecito, who the RCMP claim was in charge of handling construction cash.
The images were splashed across Quebec media when the tapes were played for the commission in the fall.
When commission chair France Charbonneau started to asked Milioto about those cash exchanges, he became visibly agitated.
She questioned him specifically where Nick Rizzuto Sr. would put the cash.
“Why don’t you ask me what you want to know?" he snapped back. "It’s public. You’ve shown it to all of Montreal, all of Canada, Madame."
Milioto will be back in the witness box tomorrow.