A businessman described by Quebec's corruption inquiry as an intermediary between organized crime, local politicians and the construction industry says he's never heard of the Mafia.
Nicolo Milioto is back on the stand for a second day Tuesday at the inquiry, and is steadfastly denying that he ever collected money from construction companies to pay off the Mob.
The retired construction boss says he doesn't even know if the Mafia exists, or what it is, and that he couldn't define the Cosa Nostra if he tried. He told the corruption inquiry that he's only ever read about the Mob in Canadian media sources.
"The Mafia, is it someone who kills? Someone who steals? Someone who sells drugs? I don't know," Milioto replied.
The tension was palpable between the inquiry counsel and Milioto for a second day.
At one point, Milioto appeared to threaten lawyer Sonia LeBel as she questioned him.
"If you respect me, I'll respect you," Milioto said.
"If you mistreat me, I can mistreat you the same way."
He later denied having made any threat.
Justice France Charbonneau grew tired of Milioto's evasive answers, as he refused to name people he felt had nothing to do with the inquiry.
She angrily advised Milioto to have a discussion with his lawyer about contempt of court and perjury during a break, before returning to the stand.
Milioto, referred to as "Mr. Sidewalk" by one witness, also repeated today he's never heard of the so-called "pizzo" — a Mafia tax — being paid in this country.
After being prodded by commission chair France Charbonneau, Milioto admitted he was aware of the concept of "omerta" — the Mafia's traditional code of silence and order not to speak to authorities.
"It means that you don't talk," Milioto said.
"So that, you know," Charbonneau retorted.
Milioto has been described as a key hub in a wheel of corruption — the person who served as the link connecting the Mafia, a major municipal political party and certain parts of the construction industry.
Police say he was spotted 236 times at a famous Mafia hangout in east-end Montreal, the now-shuttered Cafe Consenza.
But Milioto said he only ever served as an intermediary between the Rizzutos and Lino Zambito, a witness who exposed much of the rot in Montreal and the corrupt system in place.
Zambito had claimed Milioto introduced him to the cartel system.
Milioto denied ever collecting money for the Mob. He said the only person he ever took money from to give to the Rizzutos was Zambito himself, for reasons he said he was unaware of.
As for the criminal activity of Nicolo Rizzuto Sr. and his son, Vito Rizzuto, Milioto said he'd read about them in the papers or seen stories about organized crime on television.
But he said his relationship with the Rizzutos was limited to friendly get-togethers and financing Sicilian community events.
He said he knew Nick Rizzuto Sr. well but did not know his son, Vito, the alleged head of Mob, quite as well.
He played cards and drank espressos with the elder Rizzuto and admitted to once borrowing money from him — about $20,000 — for a daughter's wedding.
He said there was a mutual respect between them.
But he knew nothing of Rizzuto's Mafia ties, this despite the elder Rizzuto's arrest 2006 and his son's incarceration in the United States that only ended late last year.
"I'm not aware and I don't know," Milioto said, testifying in French.
Milioto said he didn't know if the family's involvement in organized crime was simply an invention of the media.
"What is the Mafia? It's difficult to define," Milioto said.