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Roger Desbois, retired engineer at Aecom-Tecsult, testifies before the Charbonneau inquiry looking into corruption in the Quebec construction industry on May 21, 2013.PAUL CHIASSON/The Canadian Press

Roger Desbois, a former executive with engineering firm AECOM-Tecsult, testified at Quebec's corruption inquiry that he was a middle man who distributed money from construction companies to Laval city hall and the party of mayor Gilles Vaillancourt.

When asked his role in Laval's corrupt system for awarding contracts Tuesday, the 76-year-old opened his testimony with one of the more direct admissions the Charbonneau commission has heard: "I collected the money."


In 2003, Mr. Desbois says, his boss, Marc Gendron, approached him just before his retirement to see whether he could take up the task of collecting 1 to 2 per cent from construction companies on every city project to kick back to city officials and the ruling political party, PRO des Lavallois. Mr. Desbois agreed. "I didn't sense the gravity at the time," he said.


The head of the city engineering department, Claude Deguise, would send a list of contract recipients to collect from, Mr. Desbois said. He testified he collected money in parking garages and coffee shops, always in cash, and passed most of it along to Laval political officials. While some of the meetings seemed clandestine, he mostly called entrepreneurs with a price, and they would deliver cash to his office.


Mr. Desbois estimated he collected $2.7-million from 17 firms from 2003 to 2009 and delivered most of it to the PRO party, often in sacks of $200,000. He said his office safe often had more than $300,000 stuffed into it. Then-mayor Gilles Vaillancourt once told him to pay $120,000 to city manager Gaétan Turbide, Mr. Desbois testified. He also took his own cut. Police seized $381,000 from him out of a total of about $500,000 that he received. He also got trips and other gifts.


Some companies were too big to extort, Mr. Desbois said. In one case, a firm called Demix could not make the contributions because of its code of conduct but it still got to pick contracts, he said.


The establishment of Quebec's anti-corruption squad brought the scheme to a close in 2009, Mr. Desbois said. This month, 37 people, including the former mayor and Mr. Deguise, were arrested and charged with fraud, gangsterism and conspiracy. Mr. Desbois and Mr. Turbide were named in the arrest warrants as co-conspirators but are not charged. The scheme described by Mr. Desbois was just one part of the alleged conspiracy.