At a time in life when many people are planning their retirement, Vic De Zen is starting over.
The former chief executive officer and founder of Royal Group Technologies Ltd., who was acquitted Friday on fraud charges relating to two business deals at Royal Group, has spent recent years starting a new company. Vision Group, which manufactures extruded plastics products for the building industry, already has more than 1,000 employees - many of them former Royal Group staff - working at nine facilities.
But this time around, Mr. De Zen says the company will not be listed on a stock exchange, as Royal Group was.
"Please don't talk to me about going public," he said in an interview.
Mr. De Zen, 69, is still celebrating his victory after a long legal battle over his actions at Royal Group. He says he is "delighted" by the judge's decision that there was no evidence to convict six former Royal Group executives of fraud, noting it came seven long years after Royal Group's board launched an internal investigation into the executives' activities at the company.
The ruling from Mr. Justice Richard Blouin of the Ontario Superior Court surprised many in the courtroom on Friday; they had not expected a decision would be rendered immediately after lawyers completed their closing arguments. But Judge Blouin said it would be wrong to make the accused wait weeks more to hear his decision when he had made up his mind.
"I didn't even realize what happened," Mr. De Zen said, describing the moment the judge pronounced his verdict. "And after that I started crying and hugging everyone."
The Royal Group saga began seven years ago, when the company's board launched an internal investigation after receiving notification from the Ontario Securities Commission that it was investigating possible illegal insider trading.
The board ousted Mr. De Zen as chairman in 2004, and began searching for a buyer for the plastics company. It was sold in 2006 to Atlanta-based Georgia Gulf Corp., but many of its operations were closed before and after the sale.
Mr. De Zen said at least 4,000 Royal Group employees lost their jobs as a result, and he wanted to try to help by getting back into business to create jobs for them.
"I had people coming to me - they lost houses, they lost jobs, they were crying, saying, 'What do I do now? I'm 55 and I can't find a job,'" he recalled.
Many former Royal Group employees work at Vision Group, he said, including one of his co-defendants, Luciano Galasso.
"Our business is run like a family," Mr. De Zen said. "The employees love to be here. We don't have a union. If somebody is in trouble, we help each other."
Vision Group makes a variety of extruded-plastic building products and building materials such as roofing tiles, doors, windows and vinyl railing and fencing. About 70 per cent of its products are exported.
Mr. De Zen, who immigrated to Canada from Italy in 1962, built Royal Group from the ground up and took the company public in 1994. But the board dismissed him as chairman after forensic accountants reported a number of related-party deals involving Mr. De Zen and other executives. The accountants were hired after the OSC notified the company it had launched a review of alleged insider trading. The commission later referred the case to the RCMP for investigation.
After a lengthy investigation, the RCMP announced fraud charges in 2008. Mr. De Zen and five others were accused of fraud relating to two deals at the company, one involving a parcel of land sold to Royal Group for $27.4-million on the same day a numbered company controlled by Mr. De Zen and two others had bought the land for $20.5-million.
The second deal saw five of the men accused of improperly sharing $2-million in gains from the exercise of a warrant held by Royal Group. The Crown alleged the profits should have gone to the company instead of the individual executives.
At the trial, which began last April, defence lawyers argued that the land was sold to Royal Group at fair market value and there was no law against selling a parcel of land to the company at a profit. Lawyers for the six men also argued the transactions had been disclosed internally to a number of people and had not been done in secrecy.
The defence lawyers also said there was nothing wrong with paying men bonuses from the proceeds of the warrant, arguing that the gains were properly booked by Royal Group and were included in the executives' publicly reported bonus payments that year.
Judge Blouin, who said he will release reasons for his decision in two weeks, said Friday there was overwhelming evidence that there was no fraud, no dishonesty and no concealment of activities by the accused.
Mr. De Zen said his recent experiences had not soured him on doing business in Canada. "I think Canada is the best country, and what happened to me I think it was a travesty. Probably the police have to do their jobs, but sometimes they can make a mistake too."