11 arrests as anti-corruption squad hits south shore
MONTREAL — Quebec's Permanent anti-corruption unit hit again on Thursday morning with a series of raids in and around Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.
In all, UPAC reported that 11 arrests were made in the cracking of a collusion ring that worked to funnel municipal contracts towards a small number of construction companies. In all, 77 charges will be brought against the group, including collusion, fraud, abuse of confidence and corruption.
The suspects are believed to have committed fraud of $1 million off of $20 million of public works projects, mostly in the installation of water mains and sewage.
Francois Roux, the director of criminal investigations for the Surete du Quebec, described a system whereby at least two municipal employees were exchanging privileged information for gifts. Both employees were swept up in the early-morning raids.
Nine companies were also warned on Thursday that they are now the subject of a criminal investigation, as UPAC looks for evidence of any wrongdoing.
The companies are: Carrière Bernier Ltée; Cie Wilfrid Allen Ltée; CIV-BEC Inc; Construction Benvas Inc; Construction G.C.P. Inc; Groupe Dubé & Associés Inc; Opron Inc; P. Baillargeon Ltée; Verdi construction Ltée.
Quebec's Anti-Corruption Commissioner and the federation Competition Bureau teamed up to build the case, which was a group of contracts allegedly get preferential treatment in obtaining contracts for seven municipal infrastructure projects in and around St. Jean.
"What is important in that operation is the collusion strategy," said UPAC leader Robert Lafreniere.
Lafreniere said the investigation revealed evidence of a sophisticated scheme of collusion, breach of trust and corruption.
The suspects are believed to have committed fraud of $1 million, mostly off the installation of water mains and sewers.
Projects worth over $20 million were allegedly inflated to the tune of 25 to 30 percent by the bid-rigging.
The Competition Bureau of Canada said that bid-rigging is a serious offence.
"They're taking money from the taxpayers and the only people who benefit from this type of behaviour are those involved in the agreements," said Donald Plouffe of the Competition Bureau of Canada.
Construction arrests are starting to pile up in the province.
In late April, 15 were arrested on the North Shore, including the mayor of Mascouche.
Two days later, the anti-corruption squad arrested one of the province's richest men, Tony Accurso after a similar morning raid.
In May, three former members of the Montreal administration were nabbed in high-profile arrests, including onetime Executive Committee Chairman Frank Zampino.
Thursday's arrests included two St. Jean-sur-Richelieu municipal employees Thierry Garcia, 47, and Jacques Vallières, 60, who allegedly accepted paving and restaurant services along with hockey tickets.
In return, they allegedly supplied, "privileged information to one of the company's cartel in St.Jean," said Luc Landry of Quebec's Anti-Corruption Unit.
The raids, which were made at around 6 a.m. Thursday, were the result of one of the 206 tips reported to the provincial police over the last year. The teams have made 47 arrests and laid 149 charges during that time.