Over the course of seven days of testimony, the corruption trial of Montreal’s former mayor heard from engineers, real estate entrepreneurs and a bureaucrat — all of whom testified about an alleged practice of exchanging cash for favours from Michael Applebaum’s administration.
Applebaum is on trial at the Montreal courthouse for conspiracy, breach of trust and two forms of corruption: municipal corruption and fraud on the government.
All the charges date back to his time as borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, between 2006 and 2012.
Applebaum climbed the political ladder to the top job at city hall in 2012, when he was sworn in as Montreal mayor. But his tenure was cut short when, less than seven months later, he was arrested.
Applebaum has always maintained his innocence.
Hugo Tremblay: The right-hand man who confessed
Hugo Tremblay started to work for Applebaum at the borough when he was 27, first as a political aide and later as chief of staff.
He said that under Applebaum’s tutelage he learned how to arrange illegal fundraising and solicit cash bribes from real estate promoters and engineers.
“I never had been initiated in all this,” he testified. “It was Michael Applebaum who taught me the rules of the game, from A to Z.”
‘I did what Michael Applebaum said to do.’
– Hugo Tremblay, former political aide and key witness
He said it was his job to collect the kickbacks — tens of thousands of dollars’ worth — and divide the cash according to Applebaum’s instructions.
“I did what Michael Applebaum said to do.”
Years later, after Applebaum had climbed the political ladder to the Montreal mayor’s office, Tremblay said he received a call from investigators.
The court heard that after some initial resistance, the former aide eventually agreed to help police with their investigation.
Under cross-examination, Tremblay admitted that he used the extra cash for extravagant vacations. He also admitted to using cocaine two or three times a year.
“Did I go out more often when I became single at 30 with a stack of cash? Yes,” he said.
Defence lawyer Pierre Teasdale also suggested, through his line of questioning, that Tremblay had something to gain by co-operating with police.
“You, in your mind, did you have reasonable expectations … after everything you did for police, that they would try to charge you?” Teasdale asked in court.
“Reasonably, no,” Tremblay answered.
Tremblay has never been charged in this case.
Robert Stein: The ‘sucker’
When Robert Stein was 24 years old, his father died and he was left in charge of the family’s real estate management business, the court heard.
Stein testified that he wanted to rebuild his family’s reputation after his father’s legacy was tarnished by his involvement in investments with Tony Magi, a Montreal businessman with known links to organized crime.
But Stein said he was sucked into the world of corruption.
“I was bullied, extorted,” he testified.
He compared his first sit-down meeting with Applebaum to an episode of the Sopranos.
Stein said Applebaum told him “elections aren’t cheap” and asked if he’d be willing to buy tickets to a political fundraiser.
‘I was bullied, extorted.’
– Robert Stein, former real estate manager
The court heard that Stein ended up paying a total of $60,000 to bureaucrats, including Applebaum’s right-hand man Tremblay, to ensure he’d get approved for a real estate development on de Troie Avenue. The project was never completed.
“Every single person has their hand out, on one project, on this first project I’ve ever developed,” he said.
Stein said he gave the cash to his business partner, Anthony Keeler, who delivered it to the right people.
He said Keeler, who was like a mentor, once spent some of the kickback cash on his own lifestyle, so Stein had to pay him twice.
When the defence attorney asked Stein why he never made Keeler repay him, Stein answered:
“I’m a sucker … I don’t like confrontation.”
Tony Keeler: The mentor with a code
Retired mortgage consultant Anthony Keeler said Stein, whom he called Robbie, was “like my son.”
He said that when anti-corruption investigators came knocking on his door, he could tell the jig was up.
“The minute they left, I called Robbie, I said, ‘Puts your pants on, come over’ … I told him, ‘You gotta get a lawyer.'”
‘I said, “Puts your pants on. Come over”… I told him, “You gotta get a lawyer.”‘
– Tony Keeler, retired mortgage consultant
Keeler explained to the court how he used to arrange cash drop-offs with Tremblay.
“We had a code, I guess you’d call it,” Keeler testified.
“He’d call and say, ‘Can we have lunch tomorrow?’ and if I had the money, I would say yes.”
He told the court that in exchange for a promise of roughly $35,000 in kickbacks, his real estate project was approved by the zoning committee.
He admitted, however, that he never saw the cash actually being handed to Applebaum.
Patrice Laporte: The engineer with envelopes of cash
Engineer Patrice Laporte told the Quebec court how he ferried thousands of dollars in cash to pay off Applebaum’s right-hand man, to guarantee his firm would win a municipal contract.
Laporte, a former executive at SOGEP — a subsidiary of the Montreal-based engineering firm Dessau — said his firm made a bid for the management and maintenance contract for the NDG Sports Centre in 2010.
A few weeks later, he said, Tremblay phoned him and said if they didn’t offer some extra cash, they could lose the contract.
“We were a bit discouraged,” Laporte said.
‘We’d grab a coffee, we’d chat.… Then I’d pass him an envelope.’
– Patrice Laporte, engineer
He told the court his boss decided they would pay $25,000 extra in exchange for the contract, which was worth more than $1 million a year.
Laporte said he met Tremblay several times at Starbucks cafés and McDonald’s restaurants to exchange the cash.
“We’d grab a coffee, we’d chat.… Then I’d pass him an envelope,” Laporte said.
During the defence lawyer’s cross-examination, Laporte clarified that he never collaborated directly with Applebaum.
“Me, I had nothing to do with Mr. Applebaum,” he testified.
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Applebaum declined to testify in his own defence.
His lawyer is expected to make his closing arguments on Monday.