They are two cases of alleged fraud with different victims. One involves an alleged scheme that siphoned $80-million out of one of Ontario’s largest builders of public infrastructure. The other has left more than 100 investors from Brampton’s Sikh community scrambling to recover $9-million that vanished in two real estate deals.
But both cases share a curious connection: a 52-year-old heavily tattooed luxury car enthusiast named Giuseppe (Joe) Anastasio.
Mr. Anastasio is embroiled in two of the most high-profile financial scandals on the Toronto docket in Ontario Superior Court, though the cases appear to be entirely unrelated. While his pursuers allege he has improperly diverted – and is possibly sitting on – millions of dollars of their money, other public records cast him in a different light. He was discharged from bankruptcy in 2016 and claims in insolvency records that his profession for much of the past decade was working “odd jobs.”
In the first case, forensic auditors have alleged that Mr. Anastasio was part of a false invoice scheme hatched with insiders at Bondfield Construction Company Ltd., the builder responsible for the redevelopment of Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital and Union Station. Mr. Anastasio invoiced Bondfield for millions of dollars’ worth of work on behalf of phony companies for jobs that were never performed, auditors allege.
All in all, Mr. Anastasio and his alleged co-conspirators – including Bondfield’s former chief executive – diverted $80-million out of the construction company from 2011 to 2019, with about $2-million flowing into Mr. Anastasio’s bank accounts, auditors allege. Now, Bondfield is under bankruptcy protection, and the company’s court-appointed monitor, Ernst & Young LLP, is suing Mr. Anastasio and a host of others to recover the funds.
Meanwhile, in a separate matter, real estate investment company Thrive Capital Management Ltd. has persuaded an Ontario judge to freeze Mr. Anastasio’s bank accounts and barred him and his business partners from driving several luxury vehicles, including a Porsche 911 and a Lamborghini.
Those orders came after Thrive launched an action against Mr. Anastasio and two other purported land developers, Michael Hyman and David Bowen. Thrive alleges the trio paid themselves “large sums of money” rather than fulfilling their agreement to Thrive’s investors to purchase two properties slated for development of 82 homes. Most of the people who put their money into Thrive – including some who sunk in their life savings – are unsophisticated retail investors from Brampton’s large Sikh community, court records show.
Throughout this, Mr. Anastasio has declined to comment on his involvement in these cases, leaving investors and creditors with no answers about a mystery man who they say is responsible for huge losses. He declined to respond to several requests for comment The Globe and Mail sent to him and his lawyers. Public records and interviews with sources close to the cases paint a portrait, though, of someone with expensive tastes and a lifestyle that is incongruous with his modest employment history.
In 2016, Mr. Anastasio was discharged from bankruptcy after he claimed he was unable to pay debts totalling more than $250,000 – half of them unpaid bills incurred from driving on Southern Ontario’s 407 Express Toll Route. Mr. Anastasio cited “periods of unemployment” and “over extension of credit,” as the reasons for his bankruptcy. He valued his assets at $1,000, which included $500 worth of clothing and $500 worth of furniture, bankruptcy records show. He also listed his income from “odd jobs” as $1,000 a month.
But it was during that period of time, the court-appointed monitor for Bondfield has alleged in court documents, that Mr. Anastasio acted as a key participant in the false invoice scheme that saw millions flow out of the construction company for fictitious work.
Mr. Anastasio was an associate of John Aquino, Bondfield’s then-CEO, who the monitor has also alleged took part in the scheme. In addition to $2-million in proceeds that allegedly flowed from the phony companies to Mr. Anastasio, forensic auditors also allege they have traced $5.2-million that flowed to Mr. Aquino from 2014 to 2019, court records show. For his part, Mr. Aquino, who was terminated from his position at Bondfield in 2018, has denied any wrongdoing, saying in an affidavit, “I am implicated in a matter that I believe is without merit.”
Former Bondfield staff said in interviews with The Globe that Mr. Anastasio was sometimes at the company’s office. He presented himself as a supplier of stone products and was referred to as “Miami Joe,” because he was said to have a number of properties in Florida. Public records show that he owned a condo unit in Florida, but north of Miami in Fort Lauderdale, between 2016 and 2018.
Mr. Anastasio has pushed back against the monitor’s efforts to force him to repay the alleged false invoices. He has made no effort in any court filings to explain why he invoiced Bondfield for work that never took place, nor why companies linked to him – with names such as MMC General Contracting – appear to be nothing more than a postal address. What he has objected to, however, is the legal mechanism the monitor, Ernst & Young, is relying on to recover the funds.
The monitor has proceeded against Mr. Anastasio, as well as Mr. Aquino and the other individuals who allegedly took part in the false invoice scheme, under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. Ernst & Young has sought to have the payments declared “transfers under value” – payments auditors say were designed to thwart creditors. It is an expeditious route that avoids a full trial, something that Mr. Anastasio says is required in this case.
In an affidavit, he states: “I will be financially ruined many times over and forced into bankruptcy should I be found so liable.” The monitor’s efforts to have the payments declared transfers under value is scheduled to be argued on Sept. 14.
As that battle wages on, lawyers for Thrive Capital from Dickinson Wright LLP have simultaneously zeroed in on Mr. Anastasio, who, in a venture called Noble Developments Corp., promoted himself in an entirely new field of work – as a real estate developer.
Noble lists its address on Yorkville Avenue, one of the glitziest shopping strips in downtown Toronto. (The office space Noble uses is owned by Regus, the international workspace provider.) Noble’s website features a nighttime aerial photograph of Toronto’s downtown skyline, leaving the impression it has a development history in the city’s core.
In 2019, Thrive partnered with Mr. Anastasio and his two Noble partners – Mr. Hyman, a former CFL football player, and Mr. Bowen, a licensed insurance agent – to purchase parcels of land in Brampton and Richmond Hill. In return for Thrive’s total investment of $9-million, it was supposed to become a 50-per-cent shareholder in two companies co-owned by the developers, which would be used to buy the properties, Thrive alleges.
Instead, the Richmond Hill property sale never closed and the $2-million deposit was lost, court records show. As for the Brampton land, Thrive alleges the developers bought it through a different company and placed several mortgages on the property, leaving Thrive with no security over its investment.
When the developers’ conduct came to light – around the same time Mr. Anastasio’s name surfaced publicly in the Bondfield matter – Thrive moved quickly to freeze the assets of Mr. Anastasio and his partners. Thrive also obtained court orders forcing the developers to account for the money it gave them. What information Thrive already had, which it had obtained from the developers’ banks, showed that $2.6-million of what Thrive had provided had been funnelled into the personal bank accounts of the developers.
Then, when Mr. Anastasio and his partners provided the supporting documentation for those transfers, they were short on detail, court records show. For instance, Mr. Anastasio was paid $150,000 in July, 2019, after he issued an invoice for “financial obligations” to the development company he and his partners had set up with Thrive. In September, he invoiced for $200,000, again for “financial obligations.”
Superior Court Justice Markus Koehnen said he viewed these justifications with skepticism.
“Given that the core allegation against the defendants is that they took the plaintiffs’ money and dissipated it for their own personal use … one might expect the defendants to have tried to provide some sort of explanation,” Justice Koehnen said in a July ruling. “The best they have come up with is a series of invoices from them with descriptions like ‘for financial services’ or for ‘financial obligations’ without any further explanation.”
Justice Koehnen also ordered Mr. Anastasio and his partners to provide Thrive with the whereabouts of four luxury vehicles the men drive: a 2019 Lamborghini Aventador, a 2019 Porsche 911, a 2018 Mercedes Benz E-400 and a 2017 Range Rover. The court order, which was issued in June, also prohibits the men from driving the vehicles.
Although the order does not specify which luxury vehicle belongs to which developer, other bank records obtained by Thrive suggest Mr. Anastasio was paying for a Porsche.
A Royal Bank of Canada account in Mr. Anastasio’s name shows he made $25,000 in payments to a Porsche dealership from July, 2019, to May, 2020.
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