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U.S. Coast Guard boats patrol in front of the partly collapsed Champlain Towers condo building in Surfside, Fla., on July 1. A Globe investigation looks at the Canadian developers behind the development who faced decades of lawsuits and claims of fraud.Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press


Champlain Towers South was built in 1981 by a consortium of Canadian developers. At the forefront of the group was Nathan Reiber. But paperwork shows at least five others were prominently involved.

Nathan Reiber

Mr. Reiber came to Canada from Poland as a child with his parents during the Great Depression. He grew up in Edmonton, and graduated with a law degree from the University of Alberta in 1951.

For almost his entire legal career he had a foot in the development world. In 1960, he was described in the Canadian Jewish News as a “lawyer with interests in building.”

In addition to his law practice with Newman & Reiber, Mr. Reiber had side ventures for his real estate deals, including Newrey Holdings, Reiber Estates, Jeff-Mar Holdings, Bath-Shep Apartments and Reiwen Holdings. Florida business records show Mr. Reiber served as a director on dozens of other companies in that state.

His career was pocked with lawsuits and allegations of fraud, and in the late 1970s, he relocated to Florida, shortly after the Canadian government charged him with tax evasion. He resigned his law licence to avoid being disbarred. As he quietly resolved his legal issues, Mr. Reiber became a fixture of local Miami-area society and was known as a philanthropist.

He died in 2014.

Nathan Goldlist

After surviving the Holocaust, Mr. Goldlist left Europe and settled in New Jersey on a chicken farm, before moving to Toronto to join his cousins.

Toronto city directories show he worked as a “builder” and appears to have run a company called Goldfield Holdings, which was involved in apartment towers.

Sarah Senior grew up next door to Mr. Goldlist in north Toronto. She remembers the family fondly: “If anything needed fixing, my father would say, ‘Okay, let me go over and ask Nathan. He’ll have contacts.”

By the time Champlain Towers registered, just two companies were listed on the paperwork: Mr. Reiber’s Can-Fla Developments and Sannat Investments, which was controlled by Mr. Goldlist and his wife Sara. Isadore Goldlist and Roman Blankenstein are also referenced in the condo declaration.

Isadore Goldlist

Mr. Goldlist’s brothers, Harry and Eric, and cousins ran Goldlist Poultry in Kensington Market, but Toronto city directories show that Isadore Goldlist identified as a builder as of the 1960s. His projects include towers on Goldfinch Court in Toronto.

Jerry Kaufman partnered with Isadore to build the Mirage condo, a building five doors down from Champlain South. He remembered “Izzy” as a frugal businessman, deeply shaped by his experience as a Holocaust survivor.

“If Izzy could drive a car that didn’t have tires, he would. He was very conservative. The refugee mentality was: negotiate hard, but live by that deal,” he said. “Izzy always wanted to do things the right way. Izzy didn’t believe in shortcuts.”

Mr. Goldlist died in 2000.

Roman Blankenstein

Mr. Blankenstein was also a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to Canada. He and his long-time business partner, Joseph Fialkov, started as electricians and founded Falco Electric, which evolved into a prominent development company.

According to a biography posted on the website of Mr. Blankenstein’s son’s company, Falco built more than a dozen apartment high-rises, “as well as millions of square feet of industrial and commercial space in the GTA.”

Both Mr. Blankenstein and Mr. Fialkov are deceased. (Mr. Fialkov is listed as a director on four of the companies involved in Champlain South, alongside Mr. Blankenstein, but it is not clear whether he was involved in the tower’s development.)

Mr. Blankenstein’s son, Lawrence, who is a successful developer in Canada, declined an interview request from The Globe. He said his parents kept a unit in the building for many years, and he knew some of the people who died in the Champlain South collapse.

“There were some very good neighbours who used to check on my parents and it’s very hard. I just don’t want to talk about it.”

Stanley Joel Levine

Mr. Levine, who died in 1999, was the Miami lawyer who represented the consortium. He is listed as the vice-president of all 15 partnership companies, although this appears to have been done for administrative reasons.

“He got into real estate law because his mother was a realtor,” said Mr. Levine’s son, Randy. When she went blind from diabetes, Mr. Levine became deeply involved with the Fight for Sight charity.

In 1969, Mr. Levine was accused of brokering a US$8,000 bribe for one of his clients to a Miami Beach councillor over a zoning variance. The charges were dropped after an issue arose with the case against the city councillor.

“Those allegations were not true and they were retracted,” Randy said, but being falsely accused deeply affected his father. “He was a good dad. Did a lot for the community.”

Stephen Gonda

Mr. Gonda is listed as a director of Champlain companies alongside Mr. Reiber, but his involvement is a mystery to the people who knew him.

“He was not a wealthy man,” said Mr. Gonda’s nephew, Lou, a successful businessman based in California. “I think maybe he was a real estate agent.” (Records connected to Mr. Gonda’s personal condo in Mississauga refer to him as a realtor.)

The Gondas and Reibers were family friends. Lou’s first job as a teenager – which his father arranged – was at Mr. Reiber’s Carousel motel in London, Ont.

Mr. Gonda, who died in 1999, grew up in Hungary and immigrated to Venezuela before moving to Canada. As a child, he trained as a gymnast, and he occasionally popped into handstands as an adult.

Unlike the other Canadians, Mr. Gonda’s name does not appear in connection to any development projects in Canada.

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