MONTREAL –Michael Applebaum, the ex-interim Montreal mayor who vowed to clean up the scandal-plagued city during his tenure, was found guilty Thursday of eight of the 14 corruption-related charges against him.
A judge convicted the longtime local politician of fraud against the government, conspiracy to commit fraud, breach of trust and conspiracy to commit breach of trust.
Applebaum, 53, was acquitted on two charges, while four others were conditionally stayed because of the guilty verdicts on the more serious charges.
Applebaum, who had pleaded not guilty and had always maintained his innocence, left the courthouse without commenting.
The charges stemmed from two separate deals between 2007 and 2010 when he was mayor of Montreal’s largest borough.
The Crown expressed satisfaction with the outcome.
“We had five witnesses and the judge has decided that all witnesses were both credible and reliable, and that’s the reason why she considered the proof has been done on all the essential elements,” prosecutor Nathalie Kleber said.
Defence lawyer Pierre Teasdale said he was “a bit” surprised by the judgment, but would take time to consult it before deciding on his next step.
“The fact that we might be … disappointed with the judgment is not necessarily a legal point to form a basis to appeal,” he said. “So we will have to study the judgment.”
Neither the Crown nor the defence told reporters what they will ask for when sentencing arguments are heard Feb. 15.
Applebaum, who served as interim Montreal mayor between November 2012 and June 2013, faces a maximum prison sentence of five years.
The Crown alleged Applebaum accepted cash through a former aide in return for favours given to local real-estate developers and engineering firms.
The amounts sought totalled $60,000 for two projects –a student residence and an aquatic centre.
Teasdale argued last November the Crown’s evidence was weak and he accused the witnesses of testifying against Applebaum to save their own skin.
But Quebec court Judge Louise Provost ruled she found their testimony credible and, despite a few minor discrepancies, that it largely backed up the Crown’s position.
The case centred on the testimony of a former aide, Hugo Tremblay, who said Applebaum introduced him to illicit fundraising.
During the trial, Tremblay said he led developers and businessmen to believe their projects would be delayed or not approved unless they made a supplemental cash contribution.
Tremblay testified the money was then split with Applebaum. He even wore a wire to attempt to record Applebaum’s confession.
While the ex-mayor didn’t confess on the tapes, Provost said she was troubled by his comments, including one where he says, “in order to charge you, (they) got to see the money.”
The money was never found but Provost noted that in cases of corruption and breach of trust, it’s rare that incriminating amounts are actually kept in plain sight.
“His reactions, his whispers and the words spoken during the conversations of May 2 and 3, 2013, are astonishing and suggest that he really has something to hide,” Provost said.
Two developers also testified about giving cash to Tremblay, saying they believed it was destined for Applebaum.
Businessmen Robert Stein and his associate Anthony Keeler both said it was clear to them Tremblay’s requests for cash originated with Applebaum, even if it wasn’t explicitly stated.
Keeler also testified Applebaum had told him that “talking to (Tremblay) is like talking to me.”
Provost said they were credible, even though they testified they’d paid others kickbacks in attempts to get their construction projects moving forward.
“Has the conduct of these promoters been exemplary? Of course not, but after having observed them and listened to them, the court retains that they agreed to participate in the reprehensible acts, with the sole aim of advancing a lucrative project.”
Applebaum did not testify at his trial.
There was a brief suspension about two-thirds of the way through Thursday’s proceedings when Applebaum suffered a dizzy spell after being on his feet for more than an hour.
He nearly collapsed just after the judge had been talking about the wiretap statements.
As he stumbled, one of his lawyers caught him before he fell.
Asked later how his client was doing after the bout of dizziness and the verdicts, Teasdale replied, “Relatively well, given the circumstances.”