Construction boss says he crossed paths with alleged Mafia don Vito Rizzuto and son Nick Jr.
By Monique Muise, THE GAZETTE September
MONTREAL — The man who was once considered one of the most successful and powerful construction bosses in Quebec says he had Vito Rizzuto’s number saved on his iPhone.
During his second day on the stand at the Charbonneau Commission, Tony Accurso was asked to describe the nature of his relationship with the reputed Mafia don and his son, Nick Rizzuto Jr.
After a lengthy pause, the witness replied that the men were “minor contacts” in his vast network of friends, business partners and acquaintances. Asked by inquiry chief counsel Sonia LeBel exactly what that meant, Accurso said he “crossed paths” with the Rizzutos on occasion, and that their phone numbers were saved to his contacts list.
Previous witnesses have drawn much tighter links between Accurso to the notorious crime family, however, alleging that Vito Rizzuto acted as a kind of mediator for the construction magnate when he found himself at odds with other entrepreneurs.
According to Accurso, he never met the family patriarch, Nick Rizzuto Sr.
All three Rizzutos are deceased. Nick Sr. and Nick Jr. were shot dead, while Vito succumbed to cancer last Christmas.
Accurso has for years denied that he had any links whatsoever to organized crime in Montreal. His admission that he had contact — even “minor” contact — with the clan is the first major bombshell to come out of his testimony. LeBel did not push for more details on Wednesday, but will probably return to the subject of the Mob this week.
Throughout his second day on the stand, Accurso continued to defend his relationships with union executives, maintaining that he was never granted preferential treatment, and that he never attempted to interfere in internal union politics.
“I know where to stick my fingers and where not to stick my fingers,” he quipped.
Accurso also pointed out that he was hardly the only construction boss to rub shoulders within Quebec’s labour movement.
“All entrepreneurs are interested in meeting with union leaders,” the embattled businessman told Justice France Charbonneau. “It’s part of the business.”
But Accurso’s relationships seemed to go much further than simple handshakes and lunch meetings. He described former FTQ-Construction head Jean Lavallée as being “like a brother” and former FTQ president Louis Laberge as “a spiritual father.” Michel Arsenault, one of Laberge’s successors and a previous witness at the Charbonneau Commission, was also a close friend, he said.
Asked when he last spoke to Arsenault, Accurso replied that he called him last week to chat about what it would be like to appear before the inquiry — and to find out “where the bathroom is.”
Accurso — who is facing a slew of criminal charges — seemed determined not to acknowledge that he may have benefited from favouritism when it came to labour relations on work sites and the quality of the workers themselves. When he, Laberge and Lavallée showed up on a work site together during the 1980s, the witness said, it was simply a convenient stop on the way to a fishing trip.
“And then we went and caught some trout,” he added, shrugging.
The tone of Accurso’s testimony shifted almost immediately on Wednesday morning, with LeBel becoming more aggressive in her questioning and the witness becoming visibly frustrated at several points. Overall, however, Accurso’s responses were calm and measured, and he remained unflinching — even when confronted with wiretap evidence.
When LeBel played a recording of a local construction boss, Eugène Arsenault, venting his frustrations with Accurso to union leader Jocelyn Dupuis, for example, the witness simply smirked.
“What time was this recording made?” he asked LeBel.
Accurso was informed that it had been made at 10:30 p.m., and immediately concluded that Arsenault had been drunk when he launched into the expletive-filled tirade.
“He’s all over the place, ... It’s ridiculous,” he testified. “I have never seen a serious conversation that unfolded like that one. That’s just my opinion.”
Accurso was also asked for the first time on Wednesday about his restaurant in Laval, l’Onyx, and his now-infamous luxury yacht, The Touch. He admitted that union leaders like Dupuis used the restaurant as a sort of clubhouse and met there frequently, but said they paid for their meals.
As for the boat, Accurso was categorical:
“I never used my boat” to do business, he said. He confirmed that former city of Montreal executive committee chairman Frank Zampino vacationed on the yacht, but noted that unlike every other guest on the Touch, Zampino paid for his own plane tickets.
Accurso is expected to be on the stand for at least two more days.