MONTREAL - Construction magnate Tony Accurso, long scrutinized for his connections to top Quebec politicians, was among 14 people arrested Tuesday in the largest raids to date by the province's anti-corruption unit.
Hundreds of officers swooped down on homes, businesses and civic buildings on Montreal's north shore to break up a bid-rigging and bribery ring involving public officials in the bedroom community of Mascouche.
An arrest warrant was issued for Mascouche Mayor Richard Marcotte, who is believed to be vacationing in Cuba. Mascouche city hall was surrounded by police officers Tuesday morning who prevented employees from entering the building.
Marcotte's close friend, businessman Normand Trudel, was among those arrested on Tuesday. Trudel's construction firm received nearly $40 million in contracts from Mascouche during the 2000s.
Also arrested Tuesday was Mascouche's former general manager, Luc Tremblay, who resigned last year after a former provincial Liberal candidate said he received a cash-stuffed envelope from Tremblay during the 2008 election campaign.
Provincial police Insp. Denis Morin told a news conference that the ring was well-established and organized.
"A system was put in place several years ago to favour certain companies in the sharing of lucrative municipal contracts," Insp. Denis Morin said after the 18-month probe.
"This system also offered advantages to an elected official and a public servant at the city of Mascouche in exchange for favourable decisions."
Several suspicious transactions in Mascouche have made headlines in the past few years, including the purchase and resale of land that generated millions of dollars for the mayor's relatives.
The suspects nabbed Tuesday face a total of 47 counts including fraud, breach of trust, influence peddling and conspiracy.
The anti-corruption unit has spent nearly two years looking into allegations of bid-rigging, illicit party financing and money laundering involving construction firms connected to all three levels of government.
A public inquiry into the widespread rot is expected to get underway next year.
The highest-profile entrepreneur arrested Tuesday was Accurso, who owns two construction firms cited in 2010 for $4.1 million in back taxes.
Accurso made headlines in 2009 after several Quebec politicians were found to have vacationed on his 120-foot luxury yacht.
Among the wined-and-dined dignitaries was Frank Zampino, a member of Montreal's executive committee who later took a job with one of Accurso's business partners.
Quebec has since cancelled 17 contracts worth $21.2 million that had been held by Accurso companies. But one of his biggest holdings, Simard-Beaudry, continues to work on the sprawling McGill super hospital west of downtown Montreal.
A media report revealed that Accurso has landed $1 billion in public contracts since 1990, mainly from Transport Quebec.
Another report said the reclusive businessman's firms have been awarded more city of Montreal contracts than any others in the past five years.