Mafia probe had eyes on Pierre Laporte

QUEBEC — The Globe and Mail

Pierre Laporte, former Labour, Manpower and Immigration Minister. (Canadian Press)

At the time of his kidnapping by the FLQ, Pierre Laporte was being monitored by the police as part of a probe into the Montreal Mafia that went as far as planting a microphone in his coffin after his murder, according to stunning revelations by a retired Sûreté du Québec wiretapping expert.

Claude Lavallée, who pioneered wiretapping techniques in Quebec in the late 1960s, said in a book to be released Wednesday that the murder of the Liberal minister in October 1970 by the Front de Libération du Québec put an end to the investigation.

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The author even claims that wiretaps caught a leading organized crime figure offering the Mafia's help in finding Mr. Laporte before he was killed.

In his book Révélations d'un espion de la SQ (Revelations of an SQ Spy), Mr. Lavallée explained how his surveillance team, which was set up to gather information on organized crime, stumbled on the Mafia's interest in infiltrating the highest spheres of the political leadership.

The recollections in Mr. Lavallée's book are allegations made by the author.

For months, Mr. Lavallée had been listening to conversations involving Frank Cotroni, the head of Montreal's organized crime, and his loyal emissary Frank Dasti, who controlled everything from drugs, extortion, influence peddling, racketeering to prostitution and gambling in the city.

Under a sweeping wiretapping mission called Operation Vegas, Mr. Lavallée discovered that Mr. Dasti communicated regularly with one of Mr. Laporte's top political organizers. The SQ also discovered that Mr. Cotroni would be attending the Jan. 17, 1970 leadership convention where "he discussed in the corridors with important party figures … in what appeared to us as an attempt at corruption and influence peddling," Mr. Lavallée stated.

Then on April 16, 1970, just a few weeks before the new party leader Robert Bourassa would go on to win his first mandate, Mr. Lavalée made another unsettling discovery. "We obtained proof that Pierre Laporte … had held a meeting with (crime figure Nicolas) Di Iorio and (Frank) Dasti," the author stated.

According to Mr. Lavallée, all of this made SQ chief inspector Hervé Patenaude quite nervous and it wasn't long before Mr. Bourassa frequently sent his chief adviser, Paul Desrochers, to listen to the SQ tapes and keep tabs on a potentially explosive situation. Yet, Mr. Cotroni and his entourage attended party functions under the watchful eye of Mr. Lavallée's team.

Under Mr. Patenaude's orders, the SQ surveillance team were forbidden to wiretap Mr. Laporte's conversations. But everyone else in his surrounding sphere were fair game. That's how Mr. Laporte's political attaché, René Gagnon, would soon become an important figure in the SQ's mission.

On October 10, 1970. Mr. Laporte was kidnapped by the FLQ. "The event put an end to our patient investigation into the corruption of the politician by the Mafia. … As a hostage, Pierre Laporte the victim automatically became irreproachable." Mr. Lavallée concluded.

A week later, on the day Mr. Laporte was assassinated, Mr. Dasti was taped telling Mr. Gagnon: "They don't seem to know where your boss is? ... If you want we can take care of those bastards. We have an organization that can find Mr. Laporte and fast you know."

Mr. Gagnon responded by turning down the Mafia's help telling Mr. Dasti: "Well, for now, leave it as it is. It is very nice of you to help us."

Mr. Lavallée acknowledged that like many francophones, he held some sympathy for the FLQ that quickly disappeared the day Mr. Laporte was killed. From that moment on, he said he was eager to help capture those who had committed the crime.

It may explain why Mr. Lavallée accepted the task of conducting an illegal wiretap of one of FLQ member Paul Rose, who would later be found criminally responsible for Mr. Laporte's murder, and his lawyer Robert Lemieux.

The recording of the conversation clearly violated confidentiality privileges between a lawyer and his client but revealed that Mr. Rose killed Mr. Laporte. After explaining that Mr. Laporte was bleeding "like a pig" after cutting himself on glass while trying to escape, Mr. Rose is recorded telling his lawyer; "I finished him with the chain he had around his neck."

In an interview, Mr. Lavallée recognizes that the statement may have been planted to cover up the possibility that Mr. Rose's younger brother Jacques had committed the murder. "I can only record the words. It's up to other people to determine what happened," he said.