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In the public lore, Lucien Rivard is remembered as the mobster who escaped a Montreal jail by persuading his guards to let him water the prison ice rink -- even though the temperature was above freezing.

Few underworld men could claim to have their own entry in the Canadian Encyclopedia or to have destroyed the career of a federal justice minister, nearly sinking Lester Pearson's government in one of the great scandals of Canadian political history.

Out of public sight since he came out of a Texas jail in 1975, Mr. Rivard, 86, died Feb. 3, a spokeswoman at Montreal's Sacré-Coeur Hospital said.

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"I've never taken a penny from someone poorer than me," Mr. Rivard once wrote in a letter to his prison warden.

A 1965 inquiry report found he had many backers among federal Liberal organizers in Quebec -- but Mr. Rivard took his secrets to the grave.

The ailing, nearly blind old man who led a quiet life in Chomedey, a suburb north of Montreal, was once a hood who fancied pricey suits and pointy shoes and ran a resort that a Globe and Mail article of the day described as an ideal spot for those "with strong appetites for wenching and drinking."

Mr. Rivard was behind bars in 1964 fighting off extradition proceedings to the United States, where he was wanted for heroin smuggling.

That was when Pierre Lamontagne, the lawyer hired by the U.S. government, was offered $20,000 to secure Mr. Rivard's release on bail.

The bribe was offered by an assistant to immigration minister René Tremblay.

Mr. Lamontagne was also pressed by an aide to federal justice minister Guy Favreau, and by Guy Rouleau, a member of Parliament and Mr. Pearson's parliamentary secretary.

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The RCMP investigated but said there wasn't enough evidence to lay charges.

In November, 1964, the opposition got wind of the affair and, led by Progressive Conservative MP Erik Nielsen, began a ruthless campaign against Mr. Favreau, who was then a rising star in the Pearson cabinet.

The scandal forced Mr. Favreau's resignation and, for the 1965 election, Mr. Pearson recruited three new leading candidates in Quebec -- Jean Marchand, Gérard Pelletier and Pierre Trudeau.

Mr. Favreau died in 1967, heartbroken, many say, by having been made a scapegoat.

"Guy Favreau was the most brilliant Quebec MP of the time . . . I'm certain the scandal killed him," the late judge Jules Deschênes once said.

He was Mr. Favreau's lawyer during the affair.

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"The harshness of politics has destroyed no better man," wrote Tom Kent, then an adviser to Mr. Pearson.

The criminal record of the squat, brawny Mr. Rivard started in 1933, at 17, when he was convicted of breaking into a storage shed.

By the 1950s, he was a major figure in the Montreal underworld, according to La filière canadienne, Jean-Pierre Charbonneau's book about Canada's mob.

According to the book, police identified Mr. Rivard as a key player in the city's drug trade, an associate to Mafia bosses such as the late Giuseppe Cotroni.

Mr. Rivard was also a crucial figure in the dealings between Montreal mobsters and the Corsican smugglers later known as the French Connection.

For 20 years, police tried without success to charge him with a major crime.

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In 1956, Mr. Rivard settled in Cuba, where he ran nightclubs while at the same time running guns for Fidel Castro's rebels.

Imprisoned, then expelled in 1959, after the collapse of the Fulgencio Batista government, Mr. Rivard moved back to Montreal, where he ostensibly ran a beach resort north of the city.

In October, 1963, U.S. agents in Laredo, Tex., nabbed a drug runner, Michel Caron, as he tried to enter from Mexico with 35 kilograms of heroin.

Mr. Caron confessed and implicated Mr. Rivard and a mafioso from New York's Gambino crime family.

The investigation was so sensitive that U.S. attorney-general Robert Kennedy got involved, calling his Canadian counterpart to make sure Mr. Caron's family would be taken to a safe house.

Mr. Rivard was arrested and his efforts to get bail by contacting Liberal contacts entangled the Pearson government.

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Mr. Rivard added fuel to the scandal by escaping with another inmate in March, 1965. Outside, they hijacked a car.

Mr. Rivard gave the motorist money to take a cab home and later called him to tell him where his car was.

Mr. Rivard was on the lam for four months, his escape made even more annoying to authorities by a series of letters he sent.

In one, mailed March 30 to Mr. Pearson, he said, "Life is short, you know. I don't intend to be in jail for the rest of my life."

He was caught July 16, 1965, near Châteauguay, Que., and extradited to a penitentiary in Texas where he served nine years, his wife Marie writing him every day.

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