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,” Mr. Nazarian said.
“The Algo Mall was a black hole,” Mr. Nazarian responded. “No matter how much money you put in … that mall was doomed. Simply, I would not put my life in it. I worked 42 years to gather some fund for my family. I’m not going to put everything in this building.”
The stunning admission came after days of testimony about how Mr. Nazarian had been desperate to finance repairs to the perennially leaking roof, which caved in last summer, killing two women. He testified about 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.
Mr. Sennett, who had never done any contracting, then signed six-figure contracts with Mr. Nazarian’s company, Eastwood Mall, to do roofing restoration work. Mr. 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.
Mr. Nazarian also used the contracts to ward off the Royal Bank, which was threatening to call his mortgage over the mall’s state of disrepair, and was demanding immediate corrective action at a cost of about $3-million.
To make Empire appear an active company, another contractor who had done roof work returned $80,000 Mr. Nazarian had paid him. Mr. 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,” Mr. Nazarian said. “We were struggling to survive. We were knocking every door possible to get help.”
“It was a false way,” Mr. Doody said.
“How could we get a grant if we don’t have another company?” Mr. Nazarian responded. “Eastwood was paralyzed.”
Any money raised by Mr. Sennett, whom Mr. Nazarian called an educated businessman, would have been used to finance roof repairs, the owner insisted.
“There’s no hanky-panky or any other reason beside this,” Mr. Nazarian said. “We did not cheat anyone.”
The scheme looked sketchy, Mr. Nazarian said, so he went to his lawyer, who told him to give up on it. Mr. Nazarian, who said the plan was Mr. Sennett’s idea, followed the lawyer’s advice, eventually.
Mr. Nazarian will face a fourth day of questioning on Friday.