The net cast by Quebec's anti-corruption investigators has brought in a fish from a very small pond. The mayor of St-Rémi, Que., population 7,275, was arrested and charged with fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust on Friday. Police accuse Mayor Michel Lavoie, 58, of rigging new development and construction projects to direct business to his associates.
The corruption scandal in Quebec that has provided weekly revelations of mob graft, cash-stuffed safes and petty bribery has already taken out two big-city mayors. Mr. Lavoie, whose entire town budget of $12.7-million is smaller than many of Montreal's rigged sewer and water contracts, is the smallest-town mayor to be charged so far.
Mr. Lavoie is accused of using his power to channel development and construction projects to chosen firms, according to a statement by the head of the province's anti-corruption squad, Robert Lafrenière. The mayor is accused of modifying zoning rules and manipulating tendering and contracting rules in the scheme, according Mr. Lafrenière.
In 2010, an investigation by Le Devoir raised questions about tenders for a new town fire station under Mr. Lavoie's watch. The project cost $1.27-million, more than 30 per cent higher than initial estimates. Mr. Lavoie, who denied any wrongdoing at the time, did not return calls Friday.
Mr. Lavoie's son, Sébastien Lavoie, and construction company head Dominic Dorais, were also arrested and charged. All three men were taken to Sûreté du Québec headquarters in Montreal from their homes in the town about 30 kilometres southeast of Montreal. All three were released later in the day.
Residents of the town, which is run by part-time councillors, had little to say Friday as they learned of the charges against their mayor.
"We are all together, all independent, and we have nothing to say," said Joseph Boire, one of the councillors. "We're waiting to see what happens like everyone else."
Mr. Lavoie is the second mayor to be arrested. and joins a long list of lower-level municipal officials who have been accused of taking part in schemes to defraud the public purse on construction projects in Quebec. The former mayor of Mascouche, Richard Marcotte, is also facing criminal charges.
Mr. Marcotte and the former mayor of Laval, Gilles Vaillancourt, resigned from their posts amid allegations of corruption. Mr. Vaillancourt has faced frequent police searches of his office and homes but has not been arrested.
Gérald Tremblay also resigned from his post as Montreal mayor earlier this fall. Mr. Tremblay has never been accused of direct wrongdoing but has faced allegations he turned a blind eye to corruption in his ranks during his decade in power.