Civil servant says politicians overruled decisions to sell to highest bidder
Published Monday, February 4, 2013 10:19AM EST
Last Updated Monday, February 4, 2013 7:01PM EST
A former civil servant whose job it was to make sure Montrealers got the most money possible from real estate deals says he quit his job rather than put up with collusion in city hall.
Joseph Farinacci testified Monday at the Charbonneau Commission into corruption within the construction industry, and he spun a tale of senior Montreal politicians interfering with his job.
Farinacci said he was hired by the City of Montreal to carry out a specific job: to maximize real-estate deals for the city.
The Commission asked Farinacci about one particular case from 2005, called the Marc-Aurele-Fortin deal, that involved a patch of vacant land in Riviere-des-Prairies.
When the city of Montreal decided to sell the land it was put up for tender, and D'Iberville Enterprises placed the highest bid, at $1.5 million.
Farinacci said that then-executive committee chair Frank Zampino, the mayor’s right-hand man, did not like this turn of events, saying that it was the turn for Petra St-Luc to purchase land.
“He thought it was unacceptable that Iberville was picked,” said Farinacci. “According to him, the company Petra-St-Luc should have won.”
Farinacci said he asked Zampino three times why Petra St-Luc should be able to buy the land, even though its bid was $500,000 lower than the highest price offered.
According to Farinacci, Zampino said that Petra St-Luc had lost a contract on St. Antoine St., and so deserved to buy this piece of land.
Regardless of the official pressure, Farinacci continued to recommend that the land be sold to the highest bidder.
However one month later, he learned a second tender for the land had been sent out, because of an external legal ruling that D'Iberville's bid was not valid.
The second selection committee favoured Petra St-Luc, but Farinacci still held out to get the most value for taxpayers, pushing the final price back up to $1.5 million.
Farinacci then described how he had to visit the offices of Petra St-Luc himself to collect $500,000 for the City of Montreal.
"Mr Borsallino told me in private... it wasn't for everyone to hear… He said I was costing him a lot," said Farinacci.
Farinacci said similar scenarios happened repeatedly after he was hired and he soon grew tired of people constantly overruling every decision he made.
Farinacci left the civil service in 2007, three years after being hired.
Construction boss Borsellino evasive
Late in the day, a new witness took the stand.
Joe Borsellino, who runs a long list of construction-related companies, under the umbrella ofGarnier Construction, testified.
Garnier Construction is a company that gained many city contracts, and whose name often came up last fall in the Charbonneau Commission as part of the collusion system that was active in Montreal.
Former civil servants Gilles Surprenant and Luc Leclerc both testified they received huge bribes from Borsellino, and the man’s dealings with FTQ construction remain under investigation.
The construction boss is testifying against his will, because he declined to meet with police investigators from the Charbonneau Commission.
Less than cooperative, his standard answer to most questions so far has been, “It's possible, I'm not sure, and I don't remember.”
Prosecutors appeared impatient with the evasive testimony, and Borsellino was warned to try to refresh his memory before taking the stand Tuesday.
He could be held in contempt if Justice France Charbonneau decides he's uncooperative, because he's considered an important witness who likely knows many details about possible corruption and collusion at city hall.