Disbelief at Charbonneau Commission as second engineer testifies of kickbacks
Published Wednesday, October 31, 2012 10:30PM EDT
MONTREAL—Justice France Charbonneau was left shaking her head in disbelief on Wednesday while former city engineer Luc Leclerc explained to Quebec’s corruption inquiry how he was bought off by construction contractors.
Over 15 years, Leclerc said he received over $500,000 in kickbacks. On Monday, he was happy to return the $90,000 he hadn’t spent to investigators.
According to Leclerc, returning the money was a question of conscience. He asked investigators to return the money to Montreal.
While the money is now gone, Leclerc vividly remembers the first time when contractor Tony Conte allegedly bought him off.
“He handed me a Christmas card, which I slipped into my pocket. He said, ‘No open it.’ I did, and there it was, a pink $1,000 bill,” said Leclerc.
Over the next decade, Leclerc says gifts and money just kept adding up, including paid trips with mobster Vito Rizzuto, whom he describes as a gentleman and fun guy to hang out with.
“So we're talking trips, cash, golf games, hockey tickets, and then Christmas baskets, wine and some advantages when I built my house,” said Leclerc, speaking to the commission.
Leclerc's house, conveniently located next to contractor Paolo Catania's, was completed thanks to various city contractors who provided tens of thousands of dollars of free work. Much to everyone's surprise, the engineer said he didn't see a problem with that until the year he retired.
“After 2009, the city adopted a code of ethics, so everything changed radically in our section,” said Leclerc.
At that point, a dumbfounded Judge Charbonneau had to interrupt; “Are you telling me, that had you had a code of ethics in 2009 you would have turned down money, tickets, golfing and trips?”
Brushing off the question as speculation, Leclerc maintained that he was a stand-up guy and a good employee. Again, Judge Charbonneau shook her head in disbelief.
“Are you really sure the city saved money with your work?” asked Charbonneau. “Asking that question is answering it,” responded Leclerc.
Responsible for authorizing extra work on contracts, Leclerc admitting to approving millions of dollars in false cost overruns in exchange for 25 per cent of the value of the extra amount billed. The padded contracts were lucrative for both Leclerc and contractors.
The testimony comes a week after another city engineer, Gilles Surprenant, admitting to receiving over $700,000 in kickbacks for his role inflating the base price of city contracts.
Unlike Leclerc, Surprenant testified that his guilt caused him to gamble away much of the money he took from the public at slot machines. He said he was returning the funds, one pull at a time.