An accountant with a development company in Pincourt testified in a public inquiry that he observed a complex system of bid rigging and kickbacks in that town, as well as the town of Anjou in Montreal’s east end.
Steve Bendis, who worked for the Alfred N. Miller Corp., said the Pincourt mayor received a 10-per-cent kickback on contracts, while the Anjou mayor received 7 per cent.
It may sound like a current news report stemming from the Charbonneau Commission, but,, in fact the scandal is 50 years old. Charges in court never stuck either to the companies involved in the bid rigging, nor the then-mayor of Pincourt, Valentino D’Ambrosio. A judge ruled in 1969 that the crown had failed to prove that there was a system of corruption. However, Anjou Mayor Ernest Crépeault did go down. He was sentenced in 1976 to charges of breach of trust and conspiracy to commit breach of trust.
The scandal bankrupted the town of Pincourt, which went into receivership in 1967. An administrator from the province was appointed to run the town as a trustee for several years.
The town’s financial catastrophe had long-lasting effects, said former mayor Michel Kandyba, who first became a councillor in 1973 – after the Ambrosio period.
“The loans they took out at the time were for 25 or 30 years,” Kandyba told The Gazette last week. “We were still paying off those loans in 1982.”
Taxpayers revolted and many refused to pay a special tax imposed on them in 1968.
By that point, the town’s debt had ballooned to more than $7 million in 1968, from nearly nothing eight years earlier. Council passed a special tax of $1 for every $100 of a home’s evaluation to finance the debt. That was in addition to the general tax rate of $1.50 for every $100 of a home’s evaluation – for a 66-per-cent tax hike.
Newspaper articles from the time report the town paid for the construction of several streets twice, including Roberval Ave., Shamrock, Simcoe, Champlain and Frontenac Sts. In fact, roads and sewers were built at a feverish pace during Valentino’s reign, as about 1,200 lots were sitting empty with roads and sewers built around them.
“The roads were all in the forest with hydrants and everything, and the economy was in a recession,” Kandyba said. “Things just weren’t moving. At the time, people were developing Pointe-Claire and Dollard, but not Pincourt.”
One questionable transaction was the construction of the town’s water filtration and water treatment plants. The bill escalated to $1.1 million for both plants, whereas in nearby Île-Perrot, the town had built comparable plants for about $350,000. Pincourt’s water filtration plant didn’t work properly, as it had an unusually high rate of consumption, and some councillors suggested the pipes were leaking, because the materials used were substandard. The water plants cost the town $300,000 annually to run in 1967.
Another corruption charge came from inflated home prices. In one section of the town, homeowners were told by the Alfred N. Miller Corp. that the purchase price of their home included water and sewer connections, when, in fact, the city had paid for those connections.
There was also a questionable land purchase in which a company owned by one of the mayor’s business partners purchased land from Miller at $79,000, and then sold it to the town on the same day for $160,000. The land was used by the town to build Olympic Park. From the profits of the land sale, the mayor, his brother and the business partner set up a company. That company then issued interest-free loans to the mayor and another councillor.
During the public inquiry, Bendis testified his company regularly received confidential information from the town to help with bidding on contracts. He added that both Ambrosio and Crépeault would cancel bids if they weren’t awarded to Miller.
“Our relationship with the mayors was so good that they would sometimes call it off if it didn’t go our way.”
Bendis also testified his company was one of several involved in a scheme of price fixing to inflate the costs of municipal contracts.
Over the years, other rumours about Ambrosio have persisted, including one in which the town required companies to use the town’s dump, which was actually a vacant plot of land near D’Ambrosio’s home that he would charge people to use.
That plot of land is located in the Pointe-au-Renard district, and is slated to have 45 single-family homes and a seniors residence built. But because it was a former dump, and temporarily a snow dump, it has had to undergo months of environmental tests for it to be approved for development.