The latest witness at Quebec’s corruption inquiry showed up with more than just anecdotes to share.
In a vivid example of the old adage that money talks, the witness on Thursday dumped more than $720,000 cash as evidence at the probe. The money stemmed from what he said were illegal political donations to Laval’s long-ruling municipal party.
It was the largest stack of cash – although not the first – returned to the inquiry so far. The image of the stacks of cash in several vacuum-sealed packages was displayed on screens at the probe on Thursday.
The massive sum was recently returned by witness Pierre L. Lambert, a lawyer who for six years oversaw the allegedly illegal cash reserves of the recently dissolved PRO des Lavallois party, which once dominated Laval politics.
Mr. Lambert was one of about thre dozen people arrested in a corruption sweep in which former mayor Gilles Vaillancourt was charged with fraud and gangsterism.
The party disbanded shortly after Mr. Vaillancourt’s resignation; three months ago, Mr. Lambert returned what was left in the coffers to the inquiry: $721,920.
Mr. Lambert testified that he was flattered to be offered such a prestigious job and gladly took it when, in 2006, he was approached by the party bag man to be custodian of the secret cash fund. They were looking for someone discreet, Mr. Lambert said, and he was looking for recognition.
The first exchange took place in June, 2006 – with a sum of $200,000 taken out of the trunk of an engineering executive’s car.
“It didn’t feel illegal right then,” Mr. Lambert said. He compared his state with someone who’d had one drink too many but did not care. “My moral compass was perhaps not the sharpest then.”
Over the years, Mr. Lambert said he received about $2-million from an engineering executive who has testified that he collected payments from companies involved in collusion.
Mr. Lambert said he would get calls from senior party officials when they needed money — in instalments of $10,000 or $20,000, and sometimes as much as $100,000.
The money was kept in a storage locker and sometimes in his garage. He said he was custodian of the crooked cash until 2012, when the party ceased operations.
He said the illegal donations were still happening last fall, as the spotlight was intensifying at the corruption inquiry.
Mr. Lambert said he never took any cash for himself and just wanted to be of service. He said he gave money to the municipal party and to the provincial Liberals, who were in government at the time – about $10,000 in each case, but never in cash.
Mr. Lambert apologized to his family and asked for forgiveness from Laval residents. “When we find a way to make ourselves feel important ... it’s easier to lose our way and even our values. Our ego is our worst enemy.”
The inquiry has heard that the companies paid a 2-per-cent cut to Laval’s ruling municipal party.
Earlier Thursday, a one-time Liberal MNA told the inquiry he became persona non-grata in Laval when he spoke publicly in 2010 about a cash-filled envelope he was allegedly offered by Mr. Vaillancourt.
Vincent Auclair said he was shunned at public events in the municipality. And he said his provincial party never defended him publicly.
“Believe me, it cost me dearly,” Mr. Auclair said. “It was extremely hard. From one day to the next, in 2010, the day I confirmed that event, I became persona non-grata in Laval. There were plenty of events I contributed to and I was really… nobody wanted to see me.
“The message was out: Don’t be seen with the [MNA] for Vimont.”
The inquiry’s summer break is scheduled to begin next week.