Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mall owner says he had cash, but didn't want to fix roof

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ELLIOT LAKE, Ont. -- The owner of the crumbling Algo Centre Mall admitted Thursday he actually had the cash to fix the leaking roof but chose not to because it would have meant pouring money down the drain.

Testifying for a third day at the inquiry into the mall's deadly collapse, Bob Nazarian said he sold a property he owned in 2009 -- four years after he purchased the mall -- then spent $2.6 million to buy another.

Why, commission counsel Peter Doody asked, didn't he instead put that money into fixing the roof?

"Because," Nazarian said.

"Because why?"

"The Algo Mall was a black hole. No matter how much money you put in... that mall was doomed," Nazarian responded.

The stunning admission came after days of testimony about how Nazarian had been desperate to finance repairs to the perennially leaking roof, which caved in last summer killing two women.

John Pomerleau, a funeral director in the town, called Nazarian's comments unreal.

"Wow. I guess lives are a waste of money so we don't want to do that," Pomerleau said.

Nazarian testified entering into a series of dubious multimillion-dollar contracts and cash transactions to obtain a grant or loan to repair the building.

"It's a mistake, I shouldn't have got involved," he said. "Out of desperation, I got involved."

The scheme, hatched around the middle of 2008, involved a "dear friend" of the Nazarians, Alex Sennett, who set up a general contracting company called Empire Roofing and Restoration.

Sennett, who had never done any contracting, then signed six-figure contracts with Nazarian's company, Eastwood Mall, to do roofing restoration work.

Sennett used those documents to try to get a grant, which he would have used to hire a real contractor. He never did raise any cash.

To make Empire appear an active company, another contractor who had done roof work returned $80,000 Nazarian had paid him.

Nazarian then gave the money to Empire, which it paid back to the contractor, Glen Day.

"You took part in this series of financial transactions in order to make it look like Mr. Day was doing work for Empire," said commission counsel Peter Doody.

"Why was it necessary to go through this bit of a song and dance?"

"There was no song and dance. Completely legitimate. We were giving a chance to our friend to find a grant for us," Nazarian said.

"We were struggling to survive. We were knocking every door possible to get help."

"It was a false way," Doody said.

"How could we get a grant if we don't have another company?" Nazarian responded. "Eastwood was paralyzed."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2013 A18

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