CEIC Charbonneau: Eric Vecchio: Montreal Police Officer

Eric Vecchio

What to say about today’s events where we were subjected to hours of survaillance video of the Rizutto clan  while Montreal police officer Eric Vecchio provided the play-by-play? If you want the details, Sidhartha Banerjee, has a nice rundown in The Post. 

Here’s my observations of the whole affair, and some of my questions:

  • I can’t believe how sleazy and squalid these offices / clubs look. If this is the high-life Mafia style, I’m thankful for my corner office (is that a Clowns-on-Velvet / Dogs Playing Poker portrait on the wall behind them?) : This looks like the most sordid NBC shakedown ever. It makes Chris Hansen’s To Catch A Predator look like an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
  • The Christmas party, December 24th, 2005: this is the best they can do? A paper plate of baked ziti and a shot of Dewers in a paper cup?
  • Vecchio looks like the guy who farted in the CEIC room, like he’d rather be anywhere than these hearings. 
  • And who can blame him? When asked if the RCMP shared the tapes with other law enforcement, his embarrassing response? “We tried to contact them, but they never returned our calls”. Really?! A note to the RCMP / SPVM / SQ: you all play in the same sandbox. Now stop insulting us, and start acting like the law enforcement agencies that we know you can be: ones that live up to their potential and work together to solve the crime problems of our society. You’ll be surprised how sexy you look in the mirror. 
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#CEIC Charbonneau Commission: More RCMP testimony on tap for today

Linda Féquière

I was largely missing from watching the hearing yesterday. Thanks to Monique Muise at The Gazette I stayed on top of it. The Commission mostly heard testimony from the RCMP (Corporal Vinicio Sebastiano, and Corporal Linda Féquière). Sebastiano testified that the RCMP’s Project Colisée  (2000 – 2006) was focused on putting away Mafia drug lords. Whenever construction entrepreneurs or political parties came up on the 35,000 hours of video surveillance, it was largely ignored.  The Commission will likely be taking a grater interest in those tapes in the coming days. The RCMP was forced to hand over all their information from Project Colisee in March. From Muise:

The Charbonneau Commission, in contrast, is very interested in those tapes, and in the list of visitors to the two mob hangouts entered into evidence Tuesday. That list includes the names Tony Magi, Michel Argento and Francesco (Frank) Catania, among others.

Magi was spotted at both clubs a handful of times, often in the company of his legitimate business partner, Nick Rizzuto Jr., who was gunned down in late-2009 outside Magi’s offices. Magi himself survived a brazen assassination attempt while driving in N.D.G. in 2008, and his wife survived a similar shooting incident last year. Magi has never been directly linked to the Mafia.

In related news, the focus of Project Colisee, Vito Rissoto is to be released from a Colorado prison on October 6th.

 

Watch the hearings here.

Follow on Twitter: Monique Muise (Gazette) @monique_muise ,  Stephane Giroux (CTV) @SGirouxCTV,  AD Humphreys (Mafia expert)  @AD_Humphrey

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CEIC Charbonneau Commission: Day 4 – Mike Amato

Mike Amato, a detective with the York Regional Police in Ontario takes the stand today in the 4th day of Charbonneau hearings this week. Amato is scheduled to appear at 9;30 AM. He apparently is an expert in biker gang activity.

Watch the hearings here.

Follow on Twitter: Monique Muise (Gazette) @monique_muise ,  Stephane Giroux (CTV) @SGirouxCTV,  AD Humphreys (Mafia expert)  @AD_Humphrey

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CEIC Charbonneau Commission Day 3: ValentinaTenti Short Session

Day 2 of Valentina Tenti’s testimony was a short one. The commission recessed before noon, and Mike Amato, the detective from York Regional Police won’t take the stand until tomorrow.

Some highlights:

– Tenti could not cite an ethnic connection to Mafia corruption.

– She could not cite a correlation between gender and the mafia (though in some instances wives would front legitimate businesses for Mafia husbands)

– Tenti stated that in Sicily the Mafia is starting to branch out from public works and into the health care system and solid waste management.

– Tenti said that entrepreneurs that tried to co-exist along side the Mafia, apart from collusion would eventually have their businesses burned to the ground.

– Corruption is going to exist wherever there is a lack of checks and balances. It’s not the Mafia that’s the problem, it’s the system that is the problem.

– Tenti: “The conclusions of the Commission should not be based on opinions, but upon accurate information.”

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The Commission uploaded a new document today. Quebec Construction Industry Annual Statistics 2011 is now available on their website.

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Charbonneau Day 2 ( CEIC ): Valentina Tenti Testimony Afternoon

So on the break I read ahead in the Valentina Tenti report, Framing Mafia Infiltration in the Public Construction Industry in Italy (I’m impatient).

Take a look at the Case Studies in Part II; Master Builders, Master Criminals in Sicily (Page 59), The Free Port Project in Calabria (Page 67), and Campania (Page 74).

If this is the template for investigation that Charbonneau is setting the table with, then this is going to be big, and everyone will be implicated: organized crime, entrepreneurs, “white collars” (accountants, lawyers), public and private sector professionals, public officials and politicians.

Tenti’s most telling testimony came in the final hour. When commission lawyer Sonia Lebel asked her what Quebec should do to fight organized crime she responded,

 “It would be a mistake to focus on a specific group, because there is a system behind that group… The key will be the identification of who controls critical external resources. … Who is in control of the raw material? Who is in control of the workforce? Who is in control of the capital? How do these actors link together?”

Tenti resumes testimony tomorrow morning. The Gazette’s Monique Muise has been Tweeting the hearings, and providing excellent summaries of the proceedings. She’s got a good wrap up of today’s events here.

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Charbonneau Commission ( CEIC) Day 2: Valentina Tenti

The first English witness takes the stand today in Quebec’s construction inquiry (well, Italian with an awesome accent).

Valentina Tenti is a criminologist from the Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan and expert on mafia infiltration into the construction industry in Italy (her credentials here )  Again, more “painting the picture” today, no pointing fingers… yet.

Tenti is no stranger to Montreal / Quebec. She’s been a post-doctoral fellow / research assistant / visiting researcher at the Universite de Montreal since 2008. In February 2012 she presented to the Universite de Montreal’s International Centre for Comparative Criminology on the topic, Ethnic patterns and co-offending neworks in Italy’s illegal drug trade. In May she presented to Canada’s National Security Conference on the topic of corruption in the construction industry. 

You can actually see her entire one-hour lecture on Italy’s illegal drug trade here on YouTube here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNNUqqNJK4I

Tenti really started coming into her own after about an hour of testimony. Much more relaxed and confident. She spoke of how the Mafia / Cosa Nostra had a sense of entitlement, describing a “swearing in” ceremony (being “made” ) where blood was spilt over a religious object (just a tad of a flair for the dramatic). Mafia consider themselves honorable, loyal, obedient. Which tells you pretty much what they think of the rest of us. With an attitude like that is it any wonder they feel justified in exploiting the system? 

The mafia have honor, and we get hosed.

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Day 1: Charbonneau Commission ( CEIC ) Reconvenes

Not much today in the way of action. Chairman France Charbonneau set the table by stating the inquiry (#ceic) would look into connections to organized crime and biker gangs, but so far very little on specifics in the nature of “who did what”.  A lot of detailed information on the history of the construction industry by Louis Delagrave; a $5 billion industry, one in every $5 dollars in Quebec goes towards construction. That’s a lot of pie; if checks and balances aren’t in place that’s a lot of opportunity. We will see in the days ahead of us where this leads.

As a side note, I am amazed at the amount of transparency and access to information in this inquiry. I am sitting here in North Carolina, and I can watch live televised feeds of the sessions. The streaming is fantastic. The Quebec government is making every document produced by witnesses available on line with same-day uploads (see here). 

The last public inquiry in Quebec that I can recall of this magnitude was the Poitras Commission’s Public Inquiry into the Surete du Quebec in 1996 (The Matticks Affair). I wasn’t around for that, but it was nothing like this, you basically had to rely on media, or  wait for the published report to get any information. As an average citizen, I say, Well Done! We are tax payers, we should not be at anyone’s mercy when it comes to accessing information about the things that we pay for.

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Charbonneau Commission: Accept the price, take the blue pill, don’t complain.

The Charbonneau Commission, Quebec’s public inquiry into how construction contracts where awarded for public projects, is to resume tomorrow morning. The Montreal Gazette has two good articles on the story so far in this weekend’s paper. The first article asks how far will the Commission probe into the connection between big government contract money, organized crime, and the political process in Quebec.  The second article is an examination of how contracts were awarded in Montreal. The Gazette suggests a pattern in the process, which suggests a possible gaming of the contract system. Notably the top two constructions firms in Quebec –  Simard-Beaudry Construction and  Construction Frank Catania et Associés Inc.(both with links to organized crime) – most often were awarded contracts and managed to split the award pot almost 50/50 (approx. $60M each). Also, neither company bid on a specific contract when the other had decided to bid on it (one would not participate in the process if the other decided to engage). Finally, the Gazette also points out that some construction companies never won contracts.

I always find these stories of bid rigging kind of difficult to follow, so let me just lay out for you what is being suggested: Simard-Beaudry  and Frank Catania, Inc. would meet prior to bidding on contracts and mutually agree who would bid on what this round, and who would sit out. The company bidding would secretly meet with a contract rep with the government and agree on a price (the bid would be roughly in line with the cost estimate provided by the government). The company would pay the government contract rep some incentive secretly for his services. Other companies would be instructed by the lead company not to bid, or to bid with a figure significantly higher than the estimate price, in exchange the lead company would award sub-contracts to the lesser companies for sitting out or providing bogus bids.

In this scenario, everybody wins. The lead company gets greased by the premium above what the project truly would have cost, the government reps get greased with some sort of pay-off from the lead construction company, the lesser companies get greased with sub-contracts, and the other lead company sitting out this round gets greased in the knowledge that they will then take the lead on the next big government construction contract.  Oh, and one last piece of the puzzle; part of that lead company premium? That’s used to fund political campaigns; an equal portion to all parties, a manner of hedging your bets so that everyone is complicit and the status quo continues.  Everybody wins except the taxpayer; they wind up paying for a highway overpass that could have been completed at 1/3 of the price had the fundamental process of Western competitive economics been allowed to take place, and the contract awarded to the true low bidder.

And you wondered how Pauline Marois could afford that mansion on Ile Bizzard?

How do I know this is what has likely been taken place in Quebec construction for the last 100 years? My father worked in construction in Quebec all his life. That’s how.

I have often thought that if you wanted to get to the real bottom of Theresa’s death, you might need to take a long, broad look at the relationship in Quebec between politics and corruption and money. Some crimes aren’t cause-and-effect. Some crimes are wheels-within-wheels, and result from bigger systemic problems.  An inept police force, a lackadaisical  educational structure; these are systems that feed off Quebec’s political engine. If a province and it’s people accepts that $347 million is a fare price for not rocking the boat (and this is exactly the number The Gazette is suggesting) , and they would rather have that money going to maintain the sub-standard status quo in Quebec, just so long as everything continues to basically function in Quebec, albiet at a terrible level of service, then it’s alright that we use that money so that a very few people enjoy a higher standard of living. If that is true, then don’t complain when your morning commute is 10 minutes longer each year due to a continuous ballet of pilons; don’t complain when your CEGEP system is at the point of anarchy for, apparently, no reason; don’t complain when your police forces behave like thugs, and seem to be at odds with one of the fundamental tenants of law enforcement: protecting citizens.

Accept the price, take the blue pill, and don’t complain.

The Charbonneau Commission reconvenes tomorrow morning. You can watch it here.

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Earl Jones move could spell lights out for RBC

Oh snap.  Bad news for RBC. And I wouldn’t want to have been an employee from Beaconsfield in the last 25 years. One memo from Jones on RBC letterhead c.c.ing some poor banking fool and it’s game over for The Royal:

MONTREAL — Former clients of Earl Jones are seeking the right to sue the Royal Bank of Canada for allegedly allowing the disgraced Montreal financial adviser to blow through their savings.

A statement of claim was filed in Quebec Superior Court late Friday against the financial institution alleging a Montreal-area branch was aware of the irregularities in Jones’ accounts, but did nothing.

Jones pleaded guilty last month to orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme spanning more than 20 years.

The victims are seeking the authorization of a Quebec judge for the class action suit, which claims millions of dollars invested by former clients went through an “in-trust” account that in fact was a personal bank account belonging to Jones.

“The petitioner submits that Earl Jones could not and would not have been able to carry out a Ponzi scheme to the detriment of the members of the Class were it not for the negligence and wilful blindness of the Royal Bank,” the claim reads.

None of the claims against the Royal Bank have been proven in court.

The legal documents allege that Jones enjoyed a privileged status at the bank because of his standing in the community and as such the transactions weren’t properly vetted.

It also alleges that the bank knew as early as 2001 that the account was being used for business purposes and that the “in-trust” status had no meaning.

The civil claim asserts that nothing was done until 2008 when a bank manager again noted certain irregularities in Jones’ account.

“Notes on the account indicate there was prior knowledge in 2001 that the client was operating business through the personal account,” the claim reads, citing an RBC email.

A copy of the email from the bank manager raising questions about Jones’ account is part of the evidence filed Friday.

A judge must still authorize the request for the suit.

The suit seeks the full amount that was deposited in the in-trust account between 1981 and 2008. A spokesman for the Earl Jones Victims Organizing Committee says the amount determined by lawyers is about $40 million.

“They did not act in a prudent, vigilant or reasonable manner in the operation of this in-trust account,” said committee spokesman Joey Davis, in reference to the bank.

“The nature of the operation of this account was for business purposes and could lead to trouble, according to the evidence, and they did nothing about it.”

The claim alleges if the Royal Bank had kept closer tabs, Jones would not have been successful in perpetrating his almost 30-year scheme.

RBC has not filed a statement of defence, but the bank said in a statement that it, too, was a victim of Jones.

“We were deceived by Mr. Jones, just as his clients were,” the bank said in a statement.

“Until 2009, there was nothing to signal that Mr. Jones was anything other than a legitimate and successful businessman. Mr. Jones used his long-standing reputation in the community to take advantage of both clients and companies.”

RBC said in a statement that by using its logos and letterhead, Jones lent legitimacy to his Ponzi scheme, even though no such accounts existed.

“We did not know that Mr. Jones was misrepresenting RBC’s role in his business until Mr. Jones was arrested,” the institution said.

RBC acknowledged that Jones’ in-trust account, opened some 25 years ago, was operated as a personal account. It added in the statement that in-trust accounts don’t have any special status or restrictions.

“Banks do not monitor the transaction activity of an in-trust account differently from any other type of personal or business account,” RBC said.

The bank added: “We are appalled at damage Mr. Jones has inflicted on so many people and are actively assisting the trustee and authorities involved in this matter.”

Until recently, Jones owned homes in luxury locales and lived a lavish life on the backs of his client’s small fortunes over a 27-year period.

Since then, both Jones and his financial-services company have been declared bankrupt and many of his possessions have been auctioned off.

Jones, 67, is to be sentenced on Feb. 15 and is in jail since pleading guilty to two counts of fraud totalling $50 million last month.

His criminal proceedings heard that he never invested a penny of the money and none of it has been recovered.

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