Frank Zampino and co-accused found not guilty in Faubourg Contrecoeur fraud trial
A high-ranking former Montreal politician as well as a construction industry magnate were among several people acquitted Wednesday in a fraud and conspiracy case involving a municipal land deal.
Longtime municipal politician Frank Zampino, entrepreneur Paolo Catania and four former executives of his construction company shook hands after the judge delivered his verdict.
They were accused six years ago in connection with the 2007 sale of city-owned land to build a housing project known as Faubourg Contrecoeur.
All were facing fraud and conspiracy charges while Zampino and Catania also faced breach of trust accusations.
Authorities alleged the deal was rigged and Zampino used his influence to help Catania secure the sprawling property in the eastern part of the city for $4.4 million, a fraction of its assessed value of $19 million.
But the Crown's case was dismantled by the judge in an 88-page ruling.
#Contrecœur verdict: After almost an hour and a half of chronology of events and evidence, judge Yvan Poulin only now reviewing testimony. Took about 20 minutes just to go over Frank Zampino's. #CJAD #polmtl— Shuyee Lee (@sleeCJAD) May 2, 2018
Quebec court Judge Yvan Poulin wrote that the Crown's case, while voluminous, was circumstantial and fell short of proving the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.
On a few occasions he referred to the prosecution's logic as speculative or a matter of conjecture.
"The court reiterates that a criminal verdict must be based on tangible and concrete facts rather than on possibilities, probabilities or impressions,'' Poulin wrote. "The public prosecutor must establish the culpability of each accused, and beyond all doubt."
#Contrecoeur verdict: judge on testimony of ex-engineering company exec Michel Lalonde who said Zampino told him Catania was the choice to build. Zampino says meeting never happened.Judge says Lalonde testimony was weak, there's real uncertainty around his claims. #CJAD #polmtl— Shuyee Lee (@sleeCJAD) May 2, 2018
The charges were laid in May 2012 and the trial took nearly two years to complete, with 63 witnesses and some 600 pages of documents.
Those on trial before Poulin were Zampino, Catania and four of his former employees: Andre Fortin, Pasquale Fedele, Martin D'Aoust and Pascal Patrice.
Three other people were arrested in connection with the case, two of whom did not stand trial.
Daniel Gauthier, a former Catania employee who ran an urban planning firm, pleaded guilty in February 2016 at the opening of the trial. Martial Fillion, former head of the municipal housing office, passed away shortly after his arrest, but was blamed for mismanagement in the transaction.
The final co-accused, Bernard Trepanier, is reportedly battling cancer and proceedings against him have been postponed.
Prosecutor Nicole Martineau said her team presented a complete and sufficient case.
Martineau told reporters she would take stock of the 88-page judgement before deciding whether to appeal.
Zampino was the chair of the city's executive committee _ the municipal equivalent of a government cabinet _ between 2002 and 2008 in the administration of former mayor Gerald Tremblay.
His attorney, Isabel Schurman, said Zampino maintains he shouldn't have been charged in the first place.
"For six years now, Mr. Zampino has maintained his innocence in this matter,'' Schurman told reporters. ``He deplores the delay, but is relieved that he had the opportunity and that he was heard, and that Judge Poulin has acquitted him of all charges.''
"He sincerely believes today as he has from Day One that he should never have been accused in this matter and defending himself in such a highly publicized case has represented immense emotional and financial strain for his family."
Zampino's legal woes aren't over, however.
He was among eight people arrested last September by Quebec's anti-corruption unit, known as UPAC.
Investigators alleged he was part of a kickback scheme after they examined about 30, mostly engineering contracts valued at $160 million that were awarded by the City of Montreal between 2001-2009.