It was one of the most extraordinary falls from grace by a prominent figure in Montreal Jewish community history.
Seven months after being elected as the city’s first Jewish mayor, albeit on an interim basis, Michael Applebaum was paraded down the front steps of his home in handcuffs by the province’s anti-corruption police, UPAC, and arrested in an alleged bribery case. A media advisory had been sent out and several camera crews were already waiting. Guilty or innocent, the man was publicly humiliated!
That was in June 2013. Applebaum faced 14 charges including fraud, conspiracy, breach of trust, and corruption in municipal affairs. He resigned immediately and for three and a half years awaited his day in court. Few people saw or heard from him. Word got out that at some point he had returned to his former profession as a real estate salesman. I bumped into Applebaum last summer and he sounded very confident that he would be exonerated. He expressed frustration about the long wait for a court date.
Applebaum’s fate is now in the hands of Justice Louise Provost of the Quebec Court. She will render her verdict on Jan. 26, 2017. Many observers believe he has a good chance of getting off. Applebaum’s lawyer, Pierre Teasdale, expressed great doubt regarding the testimony of one Hugo Tremblay, Applebaum’s one-time chief of staff, the only witness who claimed to directly link Applebaum to $60,000 in bribery charges.
There appeared to be no paper trail tracing any bribes to Applebaum. Tremblay, who testified in exchange for immunity, appeared to be the point person in securing any alleged cash transactions. He wore a wire before Applebaum was arrested, but the former mayor never said anything incriminating on tape. “It’s reasonable to assume he knew he could do all of this alone,” Teasdale said. “There is nothing linking Applebaum to this scheme except Tremblay.”
Teasdale never even called Applebaum to the stand.
There were also some businessmen who testified. All they could say is that they assumed the money was going to Applebaum. Teasdale described Tremblay as a man who was perpetually in debt, regularly finagled concert and hockey tickets from contractors and lied to a supposed friend to extract a bribe. “Ultimately that is all you have for the primordial, essential facts of this case,” he stated.
Elected as a city councillor in 1994 and again in 1998, Applebaum was always a very respected municipal politician. He first got involved in council business to fight the city’s decision to close a certain number of municipal skating rinks. In 2001, he became the mayor of the very large Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough. From 2005 to January, 2009, Applebaum presided over the Urban Agglomeration Council Commission on the environment, transport and infrastructure. In January, 2009, he became a member of the Montréal executive committee responsible for sports and recreation. Eleven months later he was appointed vice-chairman of the executive committee responsible for housing, borough relations, citizen services and communications. In April, 2011, he rose to chairman of the powerful executive committee, responsible for finances, administration and urban planning.
When then Mayor Gérald Tremblay resigned on Nov. 16, 2012, Applebaum surprised many by winning a vote taken among the sitting councillors to become interim mayor. At his swearing-in ceremony, a who’s who of Jewish community leaders were on hand to witness history. Applebaum even wore a kippah. During his seven months in office, he was absolutely everywhere. I remember meeting with him at City Hall a few months before his arrest. He was flying so high I asked him whether he’d consider running for the big job or look for an even bigger challenge. His arrest was a shock to everyone in the community.
None of us know the truth of what really happened. The judge will rule in early 2017. If the case is dismissed has Applebaum’s reputation been tarnished beyond repair? Would he ever consider seeking re-election again? Would people vote for him? It will be truly interesting to see what Judge Provost says in her verdict.
Mike Cohen is the B’nai Brith Canada Quebec bureau chief. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @mikecohencsl