05/15/2013 21:16 EDT | Updated 07/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Suspended Laval official describes '10-year reign of terror'

The suspended assistant manager of Laval, Jean Roberge, has told Quebec's corruption inquiry that there was a system of collusion in place in Quebec's fourth-largest city and that he took part in it.

Roberge, who was suspended with pay from his post recently in anticipation of his testimony before the Charbonneau commission, is the first witness to testify about bid-rigging in Laval.

He was called to the stand Wednesday morning, after a surprise announcement by commission prosecutor Sonia LeBel that Roberge's boss who was suspended along with him, city manager Gaétan Turbide, would not be testifying because of questions about his credibility.

"At 9:15 this morning, the prosecutor was apprised of certain information that seriously puts in doubt the credibility of the next witness," said a ruffled LeBel, calling off the morning's public testimony while the commission took time to regroup.

Court documents suggest Turbide knew about a fraud scheme at Laval city hall and helped to plan it.

However, Turbide was not among the 37 suspects arrested last week, including long-time mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, which seemed to indicate he had kept his freedom in return for helping authorities in their investigation.

Roberge describes cash payments

Roberge took the stand when the hearings resumed Wednesday afternoon, admitting from the start of his testimony that a system of collusion did exist in Laval until at least 2007.

"I participated in it myself," he said.

Roberge said in 2002, when he was still working for a private engineering firm, a Laval city official explained to him how to go about getting major contracts from the city.

"If I was good to the politicians, the politicians would be good to me," he testified.

Roberge said he made cash contributions to Vaillancourt's party to make sure major contracts would come his way.

"We decided to supply 'political cash,'" Roberge said. "We made a first instalment of $10 thousand."

He said the money was turned over to a Laval notary who had no official connection to Vaillancourt or his political party.

Roberge said Laval's engineering department endured "a 10-year reign of terror" during which "all decisions were tied to a single person," the city's head of engineering, Claude Deguise.

Deguise was among the 37 people arrested last Thursday and one of three people — Vaillancourt and former city manager Claude Asselin — charged with gangsterism, along with other charges.

Inquiry prosecutor Paul Crépeau said the expected testimony from Roberge and other witnesses will show the structure of the alleged fraud schemes in Laval were very different from those which witnesses have testified were in place in Montreal.

The inquiry is expected to cast back as far as 1996, drawing on testimony from elected officials, business people and others.