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Bondfield's head office is seen in Vaughan, Ont., on April 20, 2020.Cole Burston/The Globe and Mail

A special unit of Ontario police officers and prosecutors has launched an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing by Bondfield Construction Company Ltd., a major builder of hospitals, transit stations and other public infrastructure across the province, The Globe and Mail has learned.

Ontario’s Serious Fraud Office, which includes Ontario Provincial Police officers and assistant Crown attorneys, started its investigation into the construction company in 2019, the OPP has confirmed in an e-mailed statement.

The statement does not say what the Serious Fraud Office is investigating. Since Bondfield sought creditor protection in April, 2019, court-appointed monitor Ernst & Young Inc. has made a number of allegations about the company’s former chief executive officer, John Aquino.

John Aquino, the former CEO of Bondfield, is seen in the side mirror of his SUV outside of Bondfield's office.Cole Burston/The Globe and Mail

E&Y has alleged in court filings that Mr. Aquino was involved in a scheme to siphon $80-million out of Bondfield through the payment of false invoices. Last week, the monitor alleged that Mr. Aquino corresponded with an insider close to Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital who used a secret Bondfield e-mail account to offer bidding tips before Bondfield won a $300-million contract to redevelop the facility.

Neither Mr. Aquino nor his lawyer responded to e-mailed requests for comment. In past court filings and public statements, Mr. Aquino has denied any wrongdoing – both with respect to the alleged invoice scheme and the St. Michael’s procurement. None of the monitor’s allegations has been proven in court, and no criminal charges have been laid.

In an e-mailed statement, Steven Aquino – who replaced his older brother as Bondfield’s CEO when John Aquino was fired in 2018 – said he could not comment on whether he was co-operating with the police investigation. He said he has “not been contacted by the OPP” about St. Michael’s Hospital. Steven Aquino has co-operated with the monitor since Bondfield sought bankruptcy protection, E&Y has said in court filings.

The Bondfield case is one of the first major investigations by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which was launched in 2018 after a study led by retired Ontario Court of Appeal judge Stephen Goudge. The review was aimed at solving a long-standing concern about how to more successfully prosecute complex white-collar crime.

Steven Aquino, president of Bondfield, seen outside of Bondfield's office.Cole Burston/The Globe and Mail

Mr. Goudge’s recommendations – which the Ontario government has not released – led to an organizational structure that is novel in Canadian law enforcement.

In most typical criminal cases, police investigate alleged wrongdoing, lay charges, and then hand their files to an assistant Crown attorney for prosecution. SFO prosecutors, however, become involved at the outset of a criminal investigation, a model that is designed to avoid legal missteps that can cause cases to collapse and years of work to be wasted. The Bondfield case is the first one the SFO has confirmed it is investigating.

Before its 2019 insolvency, Bondfield had been one of Ontario’s fastest-growing builders of public infrastructure. The company received more than $800-million in contracts from Infrastructure Ontario, the procurement arm of the provincial government, in 2014 and 2015, and high-profile municipal contracts such as Toronto’s Union Station.

Some of those projects are incomplete, including the redevelopment of St. Michael’s, which is more than two years behind schedule, and Cambridge Memorial Hospital in Southwestern Ontario, which is more than three years behind schedule.

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The OPP’s confirmation of the investigation comes just days after New Democrat MPP Jennifer French issued a public letter to OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique calling for an investigation into the St. Michael’s procurement.

Ms. French was responding to a Monday report by The Globe that Bondfield’s monitor had discovered an e-mail chain that allegedly shows Mr. Aquino was corresponding with a St. Michael’s insider in 2014 about how he should frame his bid for the project. The insider used a Bondfield e-mail address, BCCLDevelopment@bondfield.com, and did not identify themselves by name, the court documents allege.

When forensic analysts dug deeper on Bondfield’s computer system, they discovered e-mails from 2016 and 2018 in which the person behind BCCLDevelopment@bondfield.com is identified as “Vas.” Vas Georgiou was the chief administrative officer of St. Michael’s when Bondfield was awarded the contract in 2015. Mr. Georgiou was fired that same year after a series of stories in The Globe revealed he was involved in two business ventures with Mr. Aquino while he was evaluating potential bidders for the project.

A forensic report filed in court by the monitor also alleges that on Sept. 15, 2015 – the day the Globe published its first story about Mr. Georgiou – someone accessed the archiving device Bondfield uses to retain old e-mails. The analysts found that someone searched for e-mails with the terms "Vas Georgiou,” “vas.georgiou” and “BCCLDevelopment.” That person deleted about 5,370 “potentially relevant messages,” the report alleges.

A 2016 investigation by a special committee of Infrastructure Ontario’s board of directors, which was completed before the discovery of the BCCLDevelopment@bondfield.com e-mails, found that the procurement was “not compromised.”

In her letter, Ms. French urged the OPP to probe the St. Michael’s procurement, calling the new allegations “disturbing.”

“I and other MPPs before me have tried to unearth straight answers about this procurement system through the legislative committee process, but without success,” she wrote.

In an e-mailed statement to The Globe, Peter Brauti, a lawyer for Mr. Georgiou, said Ms. French’s letter was “unhelpful to anyone assessing the true state of affairs.” Mr. Georgiou denies any wrongdoing, and will not comment while the matter of the e-mails is before the court, Mr. Brauti said.

Separately from the Serious Fraud Office investigation, a spokesperson for York Regional Police confirmed that officers from that force were dispatched to Bondfield’s headquarters north of Toronto three times on Monday after someone formed a blockade of the company’s parking lot.

Sergeant Andy Pattenden said officers arrived at Bondfield to find heavy trucks blocking anyone from entering and exiting the parking lot.

Sgt. Pattenden declined to identify the people involved, but said officers encouraged the parties to resolve their differences and to stop blocking traffic. No charges were laid, although police were called to the office twice more that day to deal with the dispute, Sgt. Pattenden said.

When a Globe photographer arrived at the office around noon, John Aquino was seated in a black Cadillac Escalade, parked near the entrance of Bondfield’s parking lot.

Neither John Aquino nor Steven Aquino responded to e-mailed questions about the dispute.

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