Raynald Desjardins has been alleged by authorities to be a cocaine trafficker, a rare francophone Quebecker who rose to prominence in the Montreal mafia, and a feared inmate who tried to poison his guards.
Now the 59-year-old is trying to avoid adding to his résumé a role in Quebec’s Charbonneau inquiry, which is looking into corruption in the construction industry.
Mr. Desjardins is facing a first-degree murder charge for the killing of Salvatore (The Iron Worker) Montagna, the one-time head of New York’s Bonanno mafia family.
On Monday, defence lawyer Marc Labelle argued before Madam Justice France Charbonneau that a subpoena ordering his client to appear before her inquiry could jeopardize his right to a fair trial.
Not since the mid-1970s, when mafia dons Vic Cotroni and Paolo Violi had to appear before the Commission d’enquête sur le crime organisé (CECO), has such a high-profile reputed mobster been compelled to appear before a public inquest in Quebec.
Mr. Labelle asked that either Mr. Desjardins be exempted from testifying or that he be allowed to appear behind closed doors. Judge Charbonneau took the request under deliberation.
The inquiry had previously heard allegations that linked Mr. Desjardins to the Faubourg Contrecoeur project in east-end Montreal.
A witness, Elio Pagliarulo, testified that construction boss Paolo Catania paid $5-million for city land valued at $50-million.
The price was supposed to be $20-million but Mr. Catania got a $15-million rebate to decontaminate the land, when in fact it didn’t need to be cleaned up, Mr. Pagliarulo testified.
The inquiry heard that Mr. Desjardins had links to Carboneutre, the firm that was alleged to have prepared a bogus decontamination report.
An RCMP analyst, Corporal Linda Féquière, previously testified at the inquiry that Mr. Desjardins was once a prominent member of the clan of Vito Rizzuto, the godfather of the Montreal mafia.
However, she said, because he is not Italian, Mr. Desjardins will never become a “made man” – a full-fledged member of the mafia.
By Mr. Desjardins’s own admission, according to his parole board record, “you’ve lived in the world of the Sicilian mafia. You adopted their values, espoused their way of life and practised their criminal activities."
Mr. Desjardins lived within two blocks of Mr. Rizzuto and his sister married another alleged mobster, Giuseppe (Joe) Di Maulo, who was killed two weeks ago.
In 1987, Mr. Desjardins and Mr. Rizzuto were charged with shipping 16 tonnes of hashish via a small island in Newfoundland. They got off after the RCMP was caught trying to wiretap their lawyer’s restaurant table.
However, in 1993, Mr. Desjardins was arrested in a plot to import 700 kilos of cocaine. He was sentenced to 15 years in a trial where evidence showed he had almost frequent contacts with Mr. Rizzuto and with Maurice (Mom) Boucher, a leader of the Quebec Hells Angels.
His parole board file shows that, having gotten used to a life of luxury, Mr. Desjardins took steps to replicate those conditions behind bars, to the discomfort of his wardens.
Known among inmates as “the Millionaire,” he got a jogging track installed at his own expense, “a spectacular way to show your strength and power within the institution,” the parole board said.
He had control of the refrigerators and telephones and was in a cellblock of prominent inmates who were allowed by guards to call out every day and conduct business, contrary to jail policy, the parole board heard.
The parole board also said Mr. Desjardins was suspected of being behind two murder plots and one attempt to poison prison staff.
The parole board said Mr. Desjardins acted as a “kingpin … who tries to live inside prisons as he has done outside, with underlings and middlemen. They impose their way of life through intimidation and violence.”
By the time Mr. Desjardins got his statutory release from jail in 2004, Mr. Rizzuto had been arrested and on his way to be extradited for his role in a triple murder in Brooklyn.
In Mr. Rizzuto’s absence, the Montreal underworld was rattled by a series of murders.
Mr. Desjardins survived an attempt on his life in September of 2011, then was among six men arrested two months later and charged with the killing of Mr. Montagna.