Disgraced former Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum can keep the $268,000 he received from the city after resigning from office, despite a conviction for fraud against the government, Quebec Superior Court ruled Monday.
Applebaum is legally entitled to the taxpayer cash because new rules punishing elected officials convicted of crimes went into effect after he broke the law and received his severance package, Justice Serge Gaudet said. The judge added that nothing in the law stipulates the new rules apply retroactively.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said she was disappointed with the ruling because it sent a signal that politicians can break the law and still get paid. She said the city’s lawyers will analyze the decision to see whether other legal avenues to recoup the money are possible.
Applebaum’s crimes occurred during a period in the city’s history when there was “a lot of corruption and collusion,” Plante told reporters Monday. As a result, she added, Montrealers have become cynical towards municipal politics.
“If someone is convicted of fraud I think the message to send is that we will fight to get this money back,” she said.
Applebaum, who was first elected to council in 1994, became the city’s interim mayor in 2012 on a promise to clean up the city’s scandal-plagued politics. He replaced mayor Gerald Tremblay, who resigned after his administration was accused of corruption by witnesses at a public inquiry.
Applebaum was forced to resign in 2013 when he was arrested on corruption charges. He was convicted in January 2017 of fraud against the government, conspiracy to commit fraud, breach of trust and conspiracy to commit breach of trust. The ex-mayor was sentenced to one year in jail.
The Crown alleged Applebaum accepted cash through a former aide between 2007 and 2010 in return for favours given to local real estate developers and engineering firms.
As a consequence of the corruption in Montreal and in other Quebec cities, the provincial government changed a law governing municipal politicians, in 2016 and again in 2018. The new rules forced elected officials to reimburse so-called departing and transition allowances if they were convicted of certain crimes.
One month after he resigned in 2013, Applebaum received $108,204 as a departing allowance and another $159,719 as a transition payment, designed to help politicians transition to a new career.
Gaudet ruled that Applebaum’s actions took place before the consequences of those actions were entered into law, despite the fact he was convicted after the first modification of the law went into force.
Applebaum’s lawyer, Anamaria Natalia Manole, said neither her client’s morality nor his criminal behaviour were on trial.
“This was a matter of law,” she said in an interview. “This isn’t a criminal trial, it was a civil case. The law had to be applied and it was applied.”
Attempts to reach Applebaum for comment were unsuccessful.