MONTREAL — Tony Accurso says he never paid a ‘tax’ to the Montreal Mafia, never agreed to respect Mafia-established territories, and never provided free food and drink to members of the Rizzuto crime family at his Laval restaurant.
After five days on the stand, the embattled construction magnate was finally asked on Monday morning to clarify his relationships with alleged Mafia don Vito Rizzuto, Rizzuto’s father, Nick Sr., and Rizzuto’s son, Nick Jr.
Accurso was unflinching, denying the infamous family held sway over him or his construction empire. Vito Rizzuto did frequent his restaurant, l’Onyx, the witness acknowledged, but he was a client like any other.
“He was very respectful of my restaurant,” Accurso said. “He paid his bills …he was courteous with my staff. I had no reason to kick him out.”
Rizzuto did approach him once, he testified, to inform him construction boss Lino Zambito planned to bid on work planned for the Acadie Circle. Accurso said he told Rizzuto that Zambito was welcome to do so, but he would bid as well.
In the end, Accurso said he told the alleged Mafia kingpin, the best company for the job would win.
During his own testimony before the inquiry in late 2012, Zambito alleged Rizzuto had actually mediated a dispute between the two construction bosses, and that the three men met at Accurso’s restaurant to discuss the Acadie Circle project.
Accurso said he has no memory of that meeting.
While the Rizzutos did try to initiate business deals with his various companies, the witness said, he and his partners always found “diplomatic” ways to refuse.
“Just because you have an Italian name doesn’t mean you’re in the Mafia,” Accurso quipped, adding the Charbonneau Commission had assigned an investigator to listen to 300 hours of wiretap tape featuring his voice, and the investigator concluded he had no Mob ties.
But within minutes, that statement had been contradicted. Just before lunch, Accurso was confronted with several 2005 wiretap tapes featuring his voice and that of Nick Rizzuto Jr. (who would be gunned down in the street four years later).
The two men, speaking English and calling each other by their first names, chat about Accurso’s recent vacation to the Bahamas and then agree to meet at “the same place.” The subject of the meeting was not made clear. The location was later revealed to have been a downtown apartment.
Accurso seemed increasingly uncomfortable as the tapes were played, and will likely be asked about the meeting again after the lunch break.
Earlier in the morning, inquiry chief counsel Sonia LeBel spent 90 minutes questioning Accurso about his acquisition of a piece of land in Terrebonne in the mid-2000s. The land was zoned agricultural when it was acquired by the real-estate arm of the Fonds de solidarité FTQ — the province’s largest union investment fund — in 2005. Accurso then purchased it in 2007, one year after the mayor of Terrebonne vacationed on his luxury yacht, the Touch.
In 2008, mayor Jean-Marc Robitaille was back on the boat for a second vacation, again paid for entirely by Accurso.
The witness denied the trips had any bearing on the rezoning of the agricultural land in order to make it legal to build a large residential development on the property. Accurso said with a sprawling empire to maintain, he wasn’t sure he was even aware of plans to develop the land in 2007.
“It wasn’t one of my priorities to be aware of what was happened with that land,” he said.
After listening to a 2009 wiretap tape where he refers, in English, to a “tax scheme” linked to the Terrebonne land, Accurso said the inquiry misunderstood what he was saying.
“It’s an anglophone term,” he said. “The word ‘scheme’ is not pejorative, it means a work plan.”
Accurso acknowledged, however, the land would increase significantly in value if it were made available for residential development rather than only for farming.
Even if he had asked the mayor to intervene on his behalf to make that happen (which he maintained he did not), the witness argued it is unlikely Robitaille would have the power to simply sign a piece of paper and change the land’s classification.
“We’re not in the Duplessis era,” he quipped. “There would be hundreds of people involved.”
The construction magnate again expressed his dismay on Monday at being questioned about who he invited on to his yacht — a personal space that he regarded as “a second home.”
Justice France Charbonneau disagreed, however, telling Accurso “you don’t need to make comments, just answer the questions.”
Accurso is expected to remain on the stand for the rest of the day Monday. He will face cross-examination on Monday afternoon.