The last owner of the doomed Algo Centre Mall said Tuesday he had no idea the building was in such poor condition when he purchased the "white elephant" in 2005.
Testifying into last summer's deadly collapse of the mall, Bob Nazarian was adamant he did what he could to deal with the leaking that ultimately led to the rooftop parking deck to the cave in.
"I have even lost quite a bit of money in order to keep this mall to the (best) shape as possible, not just because of the property, because of integrity," Nazarian testified.
"I have never ever cheated anyone, or I never did something wrong to hurt someone."
Nazarian said the previous owners, Elliot Lake Retirement Living, deliberately hid problems that had beset the mall since it was built in 1980 — even after he explicitly asked about any defects.
"They said the mall is in sound situation — there's nothing wrong with it," Nazarian said.
"I have not been told that there are millions of dollars of expense to be spent."
The mall looked sound, the deal was a "steal" — he bargained the price down from $8.2 million to $6.2 million — and he relied on a pre-mortgage bank inspection as evidence of its good repair.
Problems began showing immediately after the sale in the summer of 2005. A dizzying cycle of patching and sealing and redoing earlier work began.
It finally dawned on Nazarian the roof — poorly designed from the start — would likely never be fixed, he said, momentarily losing his composure.
Still, pressure from mall tenants to do something mounted as their water damage did. The city began leaning heavily on him. The bank was demanding immediate action.
As weather allowed, contractors and employees tried more patches, caulking and fixes, with equally dismal results, bleeding him financially.
"We were going down rapidly. We were knocking every door to try to bring this mall to good shape," he said.
"It's not that I was a careless owner."
He began looking to sell the property, becoming increasingly more reluctant to throw good money after bad, as he seemed to see it.
Nazarian said he had wanted to sue Retirement Living — a prominent organization in Elliot Lake — for misrepresentation but his lawyer advised against it, because it would essentially have meant taking on the entire town.
But if Nazarian, of Richmond Hill, Ont., who turned 68 Tuesday, repeatedly made a case for how he had been victimized, he was far less clear about his finances.
He insisted he ran out of money to hire an engineer to assess the roof, but frequently could not recall financial details.
"I was drinking alcohol and I was gambling," a frustrated Nazarian retorted sarcastically, as commission lawyer Peter Doody pressed him at the end of a long day about why he was short of cash.
"Is that true?" Doody asked.
Nazarian could not explain why he didn't report $490,000 paid him in "management fees" on his taxes.
He blamed his accountant for producing four different financial statements for the 2009 fiscal year showing income for his company ranging from a net loss of $209,000 to a profit of $418,592.
"I'm not an accountant and I cannot give you an accurate answer," Nazarian said.
"It's a sloppy job, I agree."
Nazarian immigrated from Iran in 1971 where he had been a skilled machinist.
He began buying and selling apartments in Montreal where he lived for 15 years before moving to southern Ontario, and started dabbling in shopping centres.
His investments were successful until he bought the Algo Centre Mall, he said, making about $10 million in profits.
Nazarian admitted to asking a structural engineer to alter his inspection report just before part of the parking deck crashed down in June 2012, killing two women.
He had wanted to make the facility "more appealing" as he sought refinancing, he said.
However, he said the alterations were only a request, and it was up to the engineer, Bob Wood, to agree to them.
Nazarian continues testifying Wednesday.