On a winter Friday in early 2011, several provincial and municipal dignitaries attended the unveiling in Montreal’s west end of the $15-million, eco-friendly Notre-Dame-de-Grâce SportsCentre.
“A project like this one is proof that our boroughs are well-managed,” then Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay boasted in a speech.
Also in attendance was the local ward’s top official, borough mayor Michael Applebaum, who said the ultra-modern facility near Benny Park would “build bridges between generations.”
Two years later, a disgraced Mr. Tremblay had to resign last fall amid allegations that his party received secret donations from construction firms involved in bid-rigging. His successor, Mr. Applebaum, who had recast himself as an independent, is now also hit by scandal, after he was charged Monday on 14 criminal counts of fraud, corruption and bribery in connection with two real-estate projects in his borough.
One of those two projects was the NDG SportsCentre, a source says, confirming information first reported by Radio-Canada.
The other project, according to the source and Radio-Canada, was the Onyx condo project, a 10-storey structure on Troie Avenue, at the foot of the Mount Royal, near the University of Montreal.
Tens of thousands of dollars in bribes were paid as part of the allegations, according to Robert Lafrenière, the head of UPAC, Quebec’s special anti-corruption squad.
UPAC officers arrested Mr. Applebaum early Monday morning, along with former city councillor Saulie Zajdel and Jean-Yves Bisson, a former director of permits in Mr. Applebaum’s borough of Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
Mr. Applebaum is facing 14 criminal counts, including fraud, corruption, breach of trust and conspiracy for the period between 2006 and 2011.
Mr. Zajdel is charged with five counts of breach of trust, fraud, corruption and secret commissions for the period between January, 2007 and December, 2008.
Mr. Bisson is charged with four similar criminal counts, between 2006 and 2008, including receiving bribes in exchange for helping with the issuance of a demolition permit. Construction of the Onyx project required tearing down a derelict apartment building erected in 1946.
Arrest warrants for the three men describe two different sets of allegations.
Mr. Applebaum is alleged to be part of a conspiracy between 2009 and 2011, with his chief of staff, Mr. Tremblay; and three executives from the engineering firm Dessau – Rosaire Sauriol, Patrice Laporte and Claude Asselin.
SOGEP, a Dessau subsidiary, is one of the stakeholders managing the NDG Sports Centre.
The warrant alleges that Mr. Applebaum arranged for a bribe from the three Dessau executives in exchange for a political favour. This exchange would have occurred between January, 2009, which coincides with the time former mayor Gérald Tremblay appointed Mr. Applebaum to Montreal’s executive committee, and December, 2011. Urban planning was among the responsibilities Mr. Tremblay gave to Mr. Applebaum, a former real estate agent.
Mr. Asselin, a former executive director at the city of Laval, was arrested and accused of gangsterism alongside former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt in early May. Mr. Sauriol, a former Dessau executive, appeared at the Charbonneau inquiry into the construction industry last March, testifying that Dessau colluded with other firms to split up infrastructure contracts in Montreal and used false invoices to illegally fund political parties.
Mr. Laporte is vice-president, operations and development, for Dessau in Ontario. Neither he nor Dessau spokeswoman Jessie-Kim Malo answered requests for comment Monday.
In the other set of allegations in the warrants, Mr. Applebaum is accused of having arranged bribes with two Montreal businessmen, Robert Stein and Anthony Keeler, between 2006 and 2010, in return for approving a project.
Mr. Applebaum’s chief of staff in the borough, Hugo Tremblay, is named in the warrant as a co-conspirator but not charged. Neither Mr. Keeler nor Mr. Stein are charged. Corporate records list them as directors of 7681160 Canada Inc., a firm headquartered at 5450 Côte-des-Neiges Street, which runs in the centre of Mr. Applebaum’s former borough. Also listed at that same address is Eagle Investments.
Mr. Stein started running Eagle Investments, a commercial real estate company that was founded by his grandfather Sam, in 2006, shortly after his father David died. He was 24 at the time. “I was thrown into the fire,” he said in an online family business page.
But real estate is not the only concern for Mr. Stein who, since 2001, is also a partner in a mixed martial arts management company. One of his companies, Gestion 5255-75 Ferrier Inc., owns the property housing Tristar Gym, where martial-arts champion Georges St-Pierre trains.
Mr. Stein did not return calls left at his office and no one answered the phone at his home.
Court documents identify the late David Stein as “a close business partner” of a controversial developer, Antonio Magi, who, according to RCMP affidavits, has ties with members of the Rizzuto crime family.
Last January, Mr. Applebaum was asked about a controversial condo project in west end Montreal, near Upper Lachine Rd. and Wilson Rd., which was promoted by Mr. Magi.
Mr. Applebaum told reporters that he knew Mr. Magi as a developer but hadn’t seen him since 2008. “I am an honest person, with integrity and I have nothing to apologize for. You cannot buy me,” Mr. Applebaum told reporters at city hall.
The next month, UPAC officers conducted search warrants at city hall and in six borough offices. In March, Robert Rousseau, the director of the NDG borough’s division of permits and inspections, killed himself hours after being questioned by UPAC investigators.
14 charges including:
- breach of trust
Former member of Montreal’s executive committee
5 charges including:
- breach of trust
- payment of secret commissions
Former director of permits in borough of Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce
4 charges including:
- payment of secret commissions