A former mayor of Montreal who rode into office promising to wipe away the city's "stain" of corruption has been found guilty of eight criminal charges including breach of trust and fraud against the government, an ignominious fall from grace for one of the city's highest office-holders.
Michael Applebaum, who took over city hall in 2012 as Montreal was roiled by corruption allegations, was convicted Thursday on eight of 14 charges related to taking bribes in return for favours to real estate developers and engineering executives.
"The evidence demonstrated the existence of several conspiracies, frauds against the government, breach of trust, as well as acts of corruption in municipal affairs," Quebec Court Justice Louise Provost ruled.
The charges date to when Mr. Applebaum was mayor of a large central-west Montreal borough, where he was accused of accepting kickbacks to smooth the way for the approval of two projects.
Mr. Applebaum was convicted largely on the weight of a star Crown witness, Hugo Tremblay, his former aide and chief of staff. Mr. Tremblay described in detail how he was initiated into the ABCs of corruption. Among the rules, Mr. Tremblay testified, were to never disclose the acts to anyone – even one's wife – and to keep the illegal payments for a while in the car.
Despite attempts by defence lawyers to undermine Mr. Tremblay's credibility, Justice Provost described him as "articulate and visibly sincere," and said his testimony was believable.
The verdict also brought drama to the courtroom when Mr. Applebaum fainted as Justice Provost was reading her verdict. The former mayor began weaving and then fell forward at the witness box just as it started to become clear the verdict might not go in his favour.
Mr. Applebaum, 53, declined an offer by the judge to sit down, insisting he remain standing to hear the rest of the judgment.
The conviction marks a stunning finale to a long legal battle for Mr. Applebaum that began with his arrest in 2013, only seven months after he took over city hall pledging to steer a new course for a city rocked by corruption disclosures. He cut a historic figure as the first anglophone to fill the mayor's job in a century and the first member of the Jewish community to reach the top office.
He cast himself as a whistleblower who would clean the rot that had cost city taxpayers millions and sapped the trust of a demoralized electorate. The white-knight image didn't last long. Quebec anti-corruption police arrested him at his home in June, 2013.
He maintained his innocence all along.
The Crown presented Mr. Tremblay as the conduit to Mr. Applebaum for the illicit cash. He agreed to co-operate with police in exchange for immunity and wore a wire twice to tape his boss.
In one recording, Mr. Applebaum is heard saying: "In order to charge you … [they've] got to see the money."
Mr. Applebaum never admits taking part in the crimes, the judge wrote, but his reactions, whispering and comments "are surprising and leave one to think he assuredly has something to hide."
Mr. Tremblay testified he was worried when Mr. Applebaum decided to run for interim Montreal mayor in 2012 because the exposure would bring scrutiny to their past behaviour. Mr. Applebaum had "bodies in the closet," Mr. Tremblay told the court.
Two developers also testified about giving kickbacks to Mr. Tremblay, saying they believed the money was destined for Mr. Applebaum; the judge said their testimony largely corroborated Mr. Tremblay's. The charges against the former mayor involved two separate deals in the borough of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce – a real estate development and a management contract at a city sports centre.
Mayor Denis Coderre, who was elected in 2013, said Thursday the verdict ends a chapter in Montreal's troubled past and the city has moved forward, with several anti-corruption measures in place at city hall.
"Justice has been done," he said. "It's a past we want to bury. We are looking ahead."
Mr. Applebaum had faced 14 criminal charges. He was acquitted on two of them and the rest were suspended. He faces up to five years in jail. He returns to court for sentencing arguments Feb. 15.