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City-backed developer’s income seized

Failed to make WCB payments

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A Winnipeg developer who secured a $10-million loan guarantee from the City of Winnipeg will have $251,000 of his income seized for three years of unpaid workers compensation insurance.

The Workers Compensation Board filed a notice of garnishment this month against developer Andrew Marquess and his company, B&M Land, for $251,227.84.

The order was filed in the Court of Queen’s Bench and will remain in effect until the amount owing is paid or the WCB drops the order, court documents show.

WCB spokesman Warren Preece said the provincial body uses garnishment as a "last resort" legal tool to seize money in instances in which they are unable to get an employer to pay the bill.

Preece said Marquess didn’t pay his workplace insurance in 2010, 2011 or 2012. The WCB first filed a notice of garnishment against Marquess in 2009 for $207,000.

Preece said Marquess still owes a quarter of a million dollars, which prompted the WCB to file another garnishment notice in an attempt to recoup the money.

The WCB provides insurance that covers wages and medical expenses in the event an employee is injured. Manitoba’s no-fault workplace insurance fully covers workers for injuries even if their employer has let payments slip.

"It’s unusual," Preece said, noting the WCB rarely files a notice of garnishment. "Most people pay their bills."

Last fall, city council voted to backstop a loan to Marquess’s company, Gem Equities, to turn the Fort Rouge Yards into a 900-unit townhouse, condominium and commercial development alongside the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities agreed to give Gem Equities $14.7 million worth of loans, and Winnipeg city council voted to guarantee $10 million of it.

There’s a chance taxpayers could be on the hook for $7 million if Marquess defaults during the condo construction phase, though city administrators and Mayor Sam Katz have said there is "zero" financial risk. Gem Equities has agreed to build a $3-million bus depot for the city near the bus rapid-transit line to offset the total risk of $10 million.

Marquess said he was "unaware" of the WCB garnishment notice and would look into the matter.

He said he is not in any financial trouble, and his previous problems with non-payment came in the wake of the worldwide financial crisis.

Marquess has been sued more than a dozen times for non-payment by suppliers who claimed he refused or neglected to pay what he owed. Six companies eventually dropped their lawsuits, but B&M Land was ordered to pay at least $1.59 million in settlements.

 Marquess said those troubles are behind him and work is moving ahead on the $79-million Fort Rouge Yards housing project.

"We’re just trying to get some of the work priced out and finalized," he said during a telephone interview this week. "There’s no trouble."

City of Winnipeg spokeswoman Tammy Melesko said in an email statement the city has no comment on the WCB garnishment notice.

Melesko said city officials are still conducting due diligence on the Fort Rouge Yards loan guarantee.

"Due diligence is ongoing and has not been concluded," Melesko said in the statement.

 jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 1:08 PM CDT: Turns on comments

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