Jacques Audette, a veteran labour lawyer whose clients include the Montreal municipal police force, has been caught up in the net thrown around 15 people and two engineering and construction companies Tuesday in a major dawn operation by Quebec’s anti-corruption squad.
Audette, 59, a partner at the Montreal office of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP for almost 10 years, now faces six charges under the Criminal Code including fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, breach of trust, fraud on a government, and influencing a municipal official in Mascouche, a city north of Montreal.
Mascouche Mayor Richard Marcotte, Quebec construction business kingpin Antonio (Tony) Accurso, and Louis-George Boudreault, a long-time Quebec Liberal Party organizer, are also among those facing a total of 47 charges as a result of the massive search and arrest operation by more than 120 police officers and civilian investigators working with Quebec’s Unité permanente anticorruption (UPAC), an entity created last year to look into questionable practices in public works and provisioning contracts and fight against corruption.
Dubbed Operation Gravel, an 18-month investigation “allowed us to establish that a system had been put in place a few years ago allowing certain companies to gain an advantage towards the attribution of municipal contracts,” Quebec provincial police Lt. Guy Lapointe said at a news conference.
Police said the arrests and charges — including those laid against engineering company BPR-Triax Inc. and construction firm Transport et Excavation Mascouche Inc. — followed an analysis of seized documents and computer hard drives, 120 interviews and — and according to the Montreal La Presse newspaper — a mole working on the inside on behalf of UPAC.
Fasken Martineau acknowledged Audette’s arrest in a brief statement Tuesday.
“As there is an ongoing police investigation, the firm is unable to offer additional comment,” Fasken said, adding that it “will cooperate fully with any inquiries by the Sûreté du Québec (Quebec’s provincial police force).”
Audette’s bio on the law firm’s web page does not mention any municipal public works contracts but notes that the lawyer “has been very active at the municipal level since the beginning of his (30-year) career. He was an important player in municipal mergers, mainly on the island of Montreal.”
Clients that are mentioned include the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) in “many highly publicized and important labour relations cases,” the Société des alcools du Québec, the government-owned corporation for liquor trade in the province, and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA).
As the media and social media sizzled over Tuesday’s police swoop down, the filing of criminal charges, and speculation about how ongoing investigations might affect other companies and lawyers who act for them, Quebec Premier Jean Charest said Tuesday’s operation demonstrates that “no one is above the law.”
Audette and the other suspects — with the exception of the Mascouche mayor who was reported to be in Cuba on holiday — were taken to holding cells headquarters of Sûreté du Québec headquarters, but later released.
They are set to respond to charges in a court appearance scheduled for June 19.