The fraud trial for a Quebec construction mogul accused of profiting off the backs of Laval taxpayers began Thursday.

Former construction company owner Tony Accurso is accused of taking part in a scheme masterminded by disgraced former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt to rig contracts and send kickbacks to city officials.

Accurso was one of 37 men accused in 2013. Since then the vast majority, including Vaillancourt, have pleaded guilty, although several have seen the charges against them dropped and three have since died.

At the opening of the trial, Justice James Brunton told the jury to ignore the fact that Vaillancourt and others have already pleaded guilty.

Prosecutor Richard Rougeau then told them he intends to show that Accurso took part in a “well-honed” system of bribery and collusion.

Rougeau added it "was so simple" it was amazing it didn't come to light more quickly.

According to the Crown, Vaillancourt would decide which engineering firm would get a contract, then rig the bids accordingly before the call for tenders was issued. In exchange, Accurso and others would pay Vaillancourt a percentage in cash handed over in brown envelopes.

The end result was that Laval taxpayers paid much more than they should have for construction and repair of public property.

The kickbacks "were the price to pay to get contracts in a fraudulent manner," Rougeau said.

Many of the alleged accomplices, including those who have already pleaded guilty, are due to testify.

Accurso faces five charges: conspiracy to commit corruption in municipal affairs; conspiracy to commit fraud; fraud; corruption of municipal officials; and breach of trust.

Accurso is the final person with an outstanding case involving the allegations of wrongdoing that took place between 1996 and 2010.

Vaillancourt was sentenced to six years behind bars and ordered to repay $8 million.

The Crown said it intends to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Accurso and his companies, Simard-Beaudry Construction and Louisbourg Construction, were involved in this system.

The first witness was businessman Gilles Theberge, who testified that construction companies already tried to fix prices among themselves during the 1990s.

He testified that in 1997, the office of the mayor took control over the bid-rigging process in exchange for kickbacks that went into Vaillancourt's election coffers.

The trial is expected to last until January.


With files from Pierre Saint-Arnaud of The Canadian Press