MONTREAL - The Quebec corruption inquiry has arrived at the doorstep of the Sicilian Mafia.
A man known as "Mr.Sidewalk," Nicolo Milioto, has begun to testify.
The elderly construction boss was little known before the inquiry began, but has become a major character during its hearings.
Video surveillance has shown him handing stacks of cash to the since-murdered Mafia don, Nicolo Rizzuto, who would promptly stuff the cash into his socks.
Other witnesses at the inquiry have described him as the go-between with the Mafia, alleging that he played a key role in the creation of a construction cartel.
One witness even said that when he interfered with the system, Milioto threatened to bury him in one of his sidewalks.
He was far less intimidating when he took to the stand today.
As he took the oath, Milioto apologized for any mistakes he might make when speaking French, explaining that he'd picked up the language "in the street."
Milioto explained that he was raised in Cattolica Eraclea — which is the Sicilian town the Rizzuto crime family stems from.
He said he came to Canada at age 18, and after working in the construction industry for years started his own company in 1989.
The construction boss has been described as a sort of middleman linking the industry, the Mafia and Montreal's former ruling municipal party.
A witness, Lino Zambito, told the inquiry that Milioto collected money on behalf of the industry for both those entities — on behalf of the political world as of 2005.
The inquiry has heard that a three per cent cut went to the ruling Union Montreal party and 2.5 per cent went to Montreal's Mafia on certain rigged contracts.
The inquiry has already heard that the RCMP spotted Milioto at Cafe Consenza, a notable Mafia hangout, a total of 236 times over two years.
Milioto, who headed Mivela Construction, a firm that specialized in sidewalk, was also a key figure in a story recounted by witness Martin Dumont.
During that encounter, Dumont said he mangled Milioto's name. In response, he said the boss told him, "You can call me Mr. Sidewalk."
During a later encounter in 2007, Dumont questioned a city engineer why it was going to cost $100,000 more for a sidewalk project compared to a similar one six months earlier.
Dumont alleged that Milioto responded directly while visiting a borough office where Dumont was an aide to a local mayor.
"You know, Martin, my sidewalk foundations are thick and deep," Dumont said Milioto told him. "You don't want to end up in my sidewalk foundations."
Dumont told the inquiry that he had never told anyone about the conversation and became emotional when recounting it years later on the stand.
But Dumont's credibility has been under attack, with subsequent testimony calling into question the accuracy of some of his claims. He was even heard telling investigators that he'd made up one of the anecdotes during his testimony.