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Former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt arrives for a court appearance in Laval, Quebec on Thursday Dec. 1, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt arrives for a court appearance in Laval, Quebec on Thursday Dec. 1, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Quebec

Ex-Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt pleads guilty to fraud, sent to prison Add to ...

The disgraced former mayor once known as the “King of Laval” for his long, uncontested reign over the city has agreed to go to prison and pay back millions of dollars for a vast fraud scheme that spanned much of his 23 years in office.

Gilles Vaillancourt, a central figure in Quebec’s corruption scandal, pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust on Thursday after the Crown and his defence lawyer struck a deal that would see him sentenced to six years and repay $8.5-million. A charge of gangsterism and several others were set aside.

The financial restitution came from property Mr. Vaillancourt turned over to the city, a $30,000 annual pension he renounced and more than $7-million in cash – including $5.2-million that was in electronic transit Thursday from his Swiss bank account.

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Mr. Vaillancourt is the biggest fish to go to prison in Quebec’s corruption scandal, which saw dozens of political figures, construction and engineering firm bosses and gang figures implicated in schemes to skim hundreds of millions of dollars off public infrastructure projects worth billions. Montreal and its suburb of Laval were epicentres of the operations, but several other municipalities were also implicated. Dozens of criminal trials are pending.

A public inquiry into the scandal revealed several vast conspiracies spanning at least a decade that saw mobsters stuffing their socks with cash, civil servants accepting Caribbean trips and bags of money, and political bag men taking their cuts to finance elections in cash. Mr. Vaillancourt figured prominently in the inquiry and was forced to resign in 2012 – a year before he was charged.

He made his plea in a glass cage in the Laval courthouse he helped inaugurate in 1992. He was allowed to emerge from the cage to make a brief apology. “I sincerely regret my errors and the pain I caused my family and friends and especially the citizens of Laval,” he said. “I feel great pain, a pain I will have to the end of my days. I want to serve my sentence as quickly as possible and once again become an asset to society.”

Justice James Brunton of the Quebec Superior Court will announce next week if he can accept the details of the plea deal. In the meantime, he sent Mr. Vaillancourt to prison Thursday to begin serving his time.

Mr. Vaillancourt, 75, was arrested in 2013 along with 35 other Laval officials, bureaucrats, contractors and engineers. Details of the scheme were covered by a publication ban imposed by Justice Brunton to preserve the integrity of the criminal trials for the rest of the defendants.

Defence lawyer Nadine Touma walked the court through Mr. Vaillancourt’s long political and community history, from his first election in 1989 to his resignation in 2012. In between, he balanced the city’s books and oversaw incredible development as Laval’s population grew by more than 50 per cent.

“He dedicated his life to the Laval community and contributed to the advancement of Quebec society,” Ms. Touma said.

Most of the sentencing arguments of Crown prosecutor Richard Rougeau were covered by a publication ban. Outside court, Mr. Rougeau defended the plea bargain. “It was the subject of a long negotiation that took into account the fact he reimbursed a substantial amount,” he said.

Mr. Vaillancourt’s guilty plea came one day after the trial of Michael Applebaum wrapped up in Montreal. Mr. Applebaum is the city councillor who served briefly as interim mayor of Montreal before resigning amid corruption allegations separate from the Laval cases. The verdict in his case is expected in January.

Court delays have recently derailed high-profile cases in Quebec, including a so-called megatrial of biker gang members. Some of the lawyers for Mr. Vaillancourt’s co-accused have said they will ask to have their cases dismissed because of the delays.

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