Quebec's anti-corruption unit carried out a series of raids and arrested high-profile construction magnate Antonio Accurso in an early-morning police operation north of Montreal on Tuesday.
It's being billed as the first major sweep by the year-old corruption-fighting squad known under its acronym UPAC.
Provincial police made 14 arrests while a 15th suspect, the mayor of the city of Mascouche, is expected to return from Cuba to face charges including fraud and municipal corruption.
In all, police have filed 47 charges ranging from fraud and breach of trust to conspiracy and corruption.
The results come after a year-and-a-half long investigation that began when two witnesses stepped forward to provide information about the awarding of contracts in the fast-growing municipality of Mascouche, north of Montreal, police said.
The investigation led police "to establish that a system had been put into place a few years ago allowing certain companies to gain an advantage toward the attribution of lucrative municipal contracts," Sûreté du Québec Lieutenant Guy Lapointe told reporters at a press conference.
"Everyone arrested today (allegedly) had a role in this system, whether they were on the receiving end or the giving end," Lt. Lapointe said. "But in the end, it comes down to a very simple, "You give something, and you get something in return."
The police operation began before dawn and involved about 120 officers, who carried out raids at locations in Terrebonne, Mascouche and Laval, municipalities north of Montreal.
Mr. Accurso was arrested and taken into custody at about 6 a.m. All suspects are being released with a promise to appear in court at a later date, police say.
News reports have linked Mascouche Mayor Richard Marcotte with a local developer who received $40 million in city contracts; the entrepreneur reportedly carried out renovations at the mayor's home.
Mr. Accurso has been at the heart of controversies in Quebec's construction industry and municipal politics in recent years, in large part after high-profile politicians and union leaders vacationed on his luxury yacht.
Mr. Accurso also made headlines during last year's federal election campaign over backroom attempts to persuade the Prime Minister's Office to appoint one of his allies as president of the Montreal Port Authority in 2007.
In 2010, the Canada Revenue Agency agreed to a deal in which two companies administered by Mr. Accurso – but not the construction magnate himself – pleaded guilty to $4-million in tax evasion and paid an equivalent fine.
A court document obtained by Radio-Canada and The Globe and Mail shows the Quebec revenue agency wants to expand on the CRA's investigation and go directly after Mr. Accurso to recoup a larger share of unpaid income and sales taxes.
Some details of the tax-evasion scheme came out when the two construction companies acknowledged they had paid invoices provided by two shell companies. However, additional information is provided in the order to produce documentation that Revenu Quebec issued in a bid to obtain the entire CRA file on the matter.
In particular, the court document alleges almost $7-million spent on Mr. Accurso's yacht and the personal residences of Mr. Accurso, his son Jimmy and two people who worked for Mr. Accurso's companies were declared as business expenses.