Then-mayor Gilles Vaillancourt was known as "The Boss" and few instructions were ever explicitly required in the corrupt system that built the city of Laval, an insider has testified at Quebec's corruption inquiry.
The Charbonneau commission dipped Thursday into the corrupt circle of construction and engineering entrepreneurs, politicians, civil servants and political fixers who oversaw the rapid expansion of the Montreal suburb of Laval, an island that transformed in a generation from farmers' fields into Quebec's third-largest city. The testimony came on the heels of the arrest of 37 people, including Mr. Vaillancourt and the former city manager, on charges including fraud, gangsterism and bribery for their alleged part in the system.
In Laval in the 2000s, the rules were understood, according to Jean Roberge, who worked within the apparatus both as an executive in an engineering firm and later as a crooked senior civil servant. But, Mr. Roberge insists, the last years of his career were spent trying to clean things up.
Even a $20,000 cash payment he received in 2009 at the behest of Mr. Vaillancourt to keep him from leaving his job only "redoubled the effort" to clean things up, he testified. Only now, Mr. Roberge said, does he recognize the money was a payoff.
For his part, Mr. Roberge, who is not facing charges but is named in the criminal cases as a co-consipirator, started out with an engineering firm, Équation Groupe-conseil, from 2002 to 2008, when he said about 100 per cent of Laval's construction business was rigged and skimmed for kickbacks.
His company was one of the smaller operators and he made about $18,000 in illicit political donations and paid several thousand dollars to city managers, he said.
In 2008, he moved into the city's engineering department, where he would pick contract recipients. He denied ever getting any bribes – until 2009, when he threatened to quit and Mr. Vaillancourt arranged to pay him $20,000 via a third party.
Mr. Roberge said he had started working on cleaning up the city's contracting system and didn't view the money as dirty until some time later. "I didn't feel like I'd been bought at the time," he said, adding that he felt like the money was meant to make up for the fact he was doing the work of a director but was being paid as a deputy.
"I thought I'd earned it. I was working extremely hard and I wasn't always paid for it. As time passed, I certainly saw it differently," he said. "But I redoubled my efforts to reform the system."
By late 2009 and 2010, a flurry of media reports had begun to put pressure on illegal contracting practices, Mr. Roberge said. Then, the provincial government put in place an anti-corruption squad, and the system was over, he said.
"I told the mayor it was over, and he wasn't happy. But there were never any repercussions," he said.