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The Rise and Fall of Montreal’s First Jewish Mayor

Mike Cohen

Has Michael Applebaum already suffered enough?

The former Montreal mayor now faces a prison sentence after being found guilty in Quebec Court last month  of eight corruption-related charges. It was alleged, and clearly support by the judge, that Applebaum extorted some  $60,000 from developers seeking contracts between 2006 and 2012 while he was mayor of the West End borough of Côte-des-Neiges — Nôtre-Dame-de-Grâce. He only served as mayor of Montreal proper for seven months, stepping up on an interim basis.

At Applebaum’s sentencing hearing, a sad story was shared. The Crown wants him to spend two years in prison, while his defence countered with 12 to 15 months to be served with a combination of prison time, house arrest and community service.

I, personally, was very surprised that Applebaum was even found guilty. Most people I spoke to who followed the trial, including some respected members of the media, were convinced that he’d be acquitted. There were few witnesses. In fact, the conviction came chiefly based on the testimony of Hugo Tremblay, Applebaum’s former aide and chief of staff. Interestingly, despite his wearing a wire, Tremblay could not come up with any verbal proof that Applebaum was involved in any act of corruption. There was not even a paper trail.

“The evidence demonstrated the existence of several conspiracies, frauds against the government, breach of trust, as well as acts of corruption in municipal affairs,” Quebec Court Justice Louise Provost ruled.

The thing is, Applebaum has already received the harshest punishment in the court of public opinion. It began in June of 2013 when Quebec’s anti-corruption police knocked on his door early in the morning, placed him in handcuffs, and brought him to court. The media had been tipped off, so he had to deal with this humiliation.

Michael Applebaum

Applebaum had to wait three and a half years for his day in court. During this time he became a broken man. A note from his rabbi, Alan W. Bright, told the whole story. “Today that same man is a broken man,” the letter reads. “A man for whom suicide seemed the only relief to his anguish. The pain of having failed his family, his friends, his community … of being shunned, and most importantly the loss of dignity caused by the predicament he now finds himself in. I beg you to show leniency, take into account all that his actions have cost him.”

Applebaum tried to go back to his former profession as a real estate salesman. But few people wanted to be associated with him. So where can he go from here?  Regardless of what the judge decides, his life as he knew it is over.

Saulie Zajdel, another former city councillor arrested on similar charges the same day as Applebaum, decided to make a deal. In May, 2015 he received a suspended sentence and was ordered to perform 240 hours of community service and donate $10,000 to a charity. He told me at the time that he just wanted the nightmare to be over. It is believed that he and his family have moved to Israel to make a fresh start. Applebaum had the same option, but continues to maintain his innocence. We will have to wait for the sentencing to see his lawyer appeals.

The rise and fall of Montreal’s first Jewish mayor was not pretty.

Mike Cohen is B’nai Brith Canada’s Quebec news bureau chief, a veteran writer and municipal politician. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @mikecohencsl