"Mr. Three Per Cent" admitted he helped pick winners on construction contracts outside any normal tendering process, but refused to call it collusion. He just wanted to avoid quarrels among firms and to make sure everyone got a turn, he said.
Bernard Trépanier denied companies made illegal political donations or paid bribes to get contracts, but admitted to Quebec's corruption inquiry Wednesday that he routinely targeted companies that won contracts for big political donations – six-figure sums far beyond legal limits.
"My goal was the old technique … where engineers who signed up [for donations] got contracts," said Mr. Trépanier.
The 74-year-old political operative insisted dear friends such as the powerful number two man at Montreal city hall, Frank Zampino, were kept out of the loop on his efforts to raise funds and impose order on the bidding process. And yet in one five-year period, Mr. Trépanier called Mr. Zampino 1,800 times. That's nearly once a day, on average, for five straight years.
Mr. Trépanier had unparalleled skill as a political fundraiser, the Charbonneau inquiry has heard, but Wednesday he offered a befuddling mix of denials and admissions, often reversing course in the same breath. The aim, it seemed, was to avoid explaining his role in the vast conspiracy to rig public construction contracts in the Montreal region, a system that returned millions of dollars in bribes and illegal political donations to the ruling party for which Mr. Trépanier worked, Union Montréal.
What was clear is Mr. Trépanier did his job with near-obsessive determination. He made no fewer than 7,000 calls over four years to about 16 people who ran construction and engineering firms, according to telephone records presented at the Charbonneau commission. Mr. Trépanier was also on the payroll of half the firms, which paid him tens of thousands of dollars each year to provide services he had trouble explaining.
Mr. Trépanier is known by the nickname Mr. Three Per Cent for the cut witnesses have said he collected on municipal construction contracts.