The notorious onetime godfather of Canada's most powerful crime family was portrayed Monday as no more than an aging pensioner, a family man, and someone who stuffed wads of cash in his socks for safekeeping.
In long-awaited testimony before Quebec's corruption inquiry, retired construction boss Nicolo Milioto admitted that he regularly shared coffee and card games at a renowned Mob hangout with slain Mafia don Nicolo Rizzuto.
But he never asked Mr. Rizzuto what he did for a living or how he made his money.
"I'm not his accountant, madame," Mr. Milioto said to commission lead counsel Sonia Lebel.
Mr. Milioto – known as Mr. Sidewalk because he is claimed to have threatened to bury an unco-operative civil servant inside one – has been described as a key figure in the corruption scheme that drove up the price of public contracts in Montreal.
A police investigator said Mr. Milioto was the middleman between leading Mafia players and Montreal construction entrepreneurs, allegedly collecting a 2.5-per-cent Mafia tax on the value of contracts.
Mr. Milioto was not to be pinned down on those claims before Justice France Charbonneau, repeatedly deflecting questions and minimizing the importance of his activities at the Consenza Social Club, which was the focus of an RCMP probe into organized crime. At times, pressed about the names of his associates, his memory had more holes in it than a Montreal street in April.
Mr. Milioto said he knew Mr. Rizzuto Sr. from their home village of Cattolica Eraclea in Sicily, and then met him again when Mr. Milioto immigrated to Montreal at age 18. It was hoped Mr. Milioto's testimony would shed light on the internal operations at the Consenza – the RCMP witnessed him entering the social club 236 times.
Ms. Lebel grew increasingly testy and aggressive with Mr. Milioto, to little avail.
She pressed him on what he discussed with Mr. Rizzuto when the two played cards together.
"Cards, madame," Mr. Milioto replied, speaking in French.
Asked about the hefty wads of cash he was shown, on hidden police video, bringing Mr. Rizzuto at the club, Mr. Milioto said it represented the proceeds of fundraising for the Association Cattolica Eraclea. He also delivered cash from former construction entrepreneur boss Lino Zambito, he said. (Mr. Zambito happened to be the first witness to testify about Mr. Milioto's alleged role in the corruption scheme).
Both Mr. Rizzuto and Mr. Milioto favoured putting the money in their socks "so that it wouldn't be stolen, so it wouldn't fall." Women also sometimes hide cash away, he said, gesturing to illustrate a woman stuffing money into her bra.
As for why he turned up more than 200 times at the Consenza, he said that his butcher was next door and he was often picking up meat or bread to take home.
Mr. Milioto said that although he met Mr. Rizzuto regularly at the social club in the 2000s, he didn't inquire about how the patriarch made money, and he assumed he was collecting a pension.
"To me he was a family man, a good person," he said. "He respected me, I respected him." He was aware of what the newspapers reported about the Rizzuto clan. But that "was none of my business," he said.
"For me, he was a gentleman," he said of the legendary crime figure, who was shot dead in his kitchen in 2010.
Mr. Milioto also said that while he had never heard of the "pizzo" protection tax in Canada, even though its existence has been widely reported.
Mr. Milioto returns to the stand on Tuesday.