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Aproposal to build a 500-house development in Vancouver Island's pastoral Cowichan Valley, a region known for its warm, dry climate and lush vineyards, is generating a lot of controversy.

Not only are there concerns about the environmental impact of putting such a big housing project in the area, but there are also questions about one of the main proponents -- Anthony Kubica, a local developer who, it turns out, has a criminal record related to a 1994 real-estate scam in California.

Mr. Kubica, the applicant for a group of companies proposing to rezone land at an old village site known as Paldi, was convicted, along with his wife, Connie Jo Michaels-Kubica, on multiple charges of grand theft and filing false trust deeds.

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According to news reports at the time in The Press-Enterprise, a newspaper in Riverside, Calif.: "Prosecutors contend the couple bilked at least 13 victims -- many of them senior citizens -- out of more than $250,000 by convincing them they were investing in legitimate trust deeds or second trust deeds."

Court records show that Mr. Kubica, who then went by the name Anton Kubica, pleaded guilty to 16 counts of grand theft and was sentenced to 16 months in state prison.

Ms. Michaels-Kubica got 60 months probation.

Everyone makes mistakes. But this was one Mr. Kubica chose to deny when I asked about his history in a recent interview.

Question: "What's your background?"

Answer: "Uh, engineering, basically infrastructure, you know water and sewer. And we build houses. You know, developers and for house building as well."

Q: "Ok. And I've been told you have a criminal record."

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A: "Excuse me?"

Q: "A criminal record?"

A: (Laughs) "Never heard of that." (Laughs)

Q: "And you don't have one in the States?"

A: "Uh, I don't have any criminal record in Canada and,,like I said, I think that's a little far beyond, you know, what is involved in building a housing project, eh."

Q: "Yeah, but I just want to find out if that's correct."

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A: "I don't have, I'm just . . ."

Q: "In the States . . ."

A: "I'm a Canadian. I don't know where you're going but . . . . I'll get Pat Hrushowy [a spokesman for the project]to get a hold of you."

With that Mr. Kubica cut off the phone call.

A few hours later, Mr. Hrushowy, who Mr. Kubica had described as "a sort of facilitator that oversees the whole project," called to say he'd been contacted by a concerned Mr. Kubica.

"The Paldi folks hired me to put together their public hearing presentation and all that kind of stuff. So when Tony phoned me this morning, and holy crow, I don't know. So anyway, I'm calling you. . . . So what's up?"

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Mr. Hrushowy, a former government liaison and public-affairs adviser from Victoria who is well known, and well respected by the news media, was asked for a statement on whether Mr. Kubica had a criminal record related to a real estate scam in the United States.

"I think that was 15 or 16 years ago or something like that," he said.

Q: "That's right. So you know about that?"

A: "Yeah. Actually I knew about it because I've known of Tony Kubica for a number of years. And that's part of his past that he was always frightfully worried comes forward from time to time."

Mr. Hrushowy said he learned of Mr. Kubica's record while working for him on another project several years ago.

"I don't think the other people in the project knew about Tony's background and it took them as a surprise," he said. "But I was assured this morning that he's not even with the project any more, that his services had come to an end."

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Q: "Okay. Now I did want to ask you, you addressed this before I had a chance, but let me ask it directly any way. Had Tony Kubica talked to his partners, or the others involved in this project, uh, had he told them about his past?"

A: "The answer is no."

Q: "And the proponents of the development, since they've learned of his criminal record, um, I mean what reaction do they have to that? Is it relevant or what do they have to say about it?"

A: "Well the impression I had was, 'Oh, damn. What a pain in the ass. But holy crow, what can we do about it? His time with us is over. We're moving on. We're involved in the final stages. I hope this doesn't get in the way and detract from what we're trying to do here.' That's kind of the approach that they've taken. . . .

"So in any event, yeah, he's done his time and he's sad that it's dredged up again. But in any event, probably as much as anything here is the context where Tony fits into this whole thing. . . . My understanding is that he is a consultant that had been working on bringing things together to work it through at the development services committee level at the Cowichan Valley Regional District. . . . And I'm told his services have been, they're done, they're over and that anything further forward representing them with the regional district happens to be me. I've been working with them for the last while."

Q: "Now just to be clear, Pat, are his services over and done with because of my questions today about his criminal record past?"

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A: "No, as a matter of fact it seems to be coincidental."

Mr. Hrushowy said Mr. Kubica's role had just run its course.

But earlier that day Mr. Kubica had clearly seen himself as an active player, saying:

"I deal mostly with all the regulatory and the CVRD and everything else."

The proponents of the Paldi housing project are: Cherokee Land Investment Ltd., a company directed by David Johel, a well-known contractor in the Cowichan Valley; The Village at Paldi Ent. Ltd., directed by Mark Saroya, whose family has long owned land at the site; and First Source Development Corp., directed by Marcial Didier.

Mr. Kubica is the sole director of Westcoast Wastewater Products Ltd. and appears in Cowichan Valley Regional District minutes as the "applicant" in the Paldi rezoning bid, which is soon to go to public hearing.

The companies have been jointly promoting the Paldi project but Mr. Kubica has been the figurehead.

Under the plan, 500 houses would be built over a 20-year period at Paldi, about 50 kilometres north of Victoria.

The area is surrounded by hobby farms and forest lands designated for logging.

Local residents are concerned that the housing development will draw down a water table that supports their wells and feeds the Cowichan River, one of the most important salmon rivers on Vancouver Island.

And they question whether it is acceptable to build sewage treatment lagoons on adjacent Crown land, as is proposed.

David Hebden, president of the Duncan West Ratepayers' Association, said there are also concerns about the extra traffic that would be generated by allowing a major new development in a rural area where there is no public transportation.

Added to all that, he said, were questions about Mr. Kubica, who championed the project at the regional district, and who was, until recently, its public face.

"No one knew anything about him," said Mr. Hebden, who became aware of Mr. Kubica when he appeared at a public meeting to discuss the Paldi project. "He said, 'We're a nationwide developer and we've built houses all over.' But we couldn't find out where. We were suspicious. . . .

"He said they would put in homes for single moms. Single moms won't move into the middle of nowhere, where there is no public transit.

"I thought, this project just doesn't feel right."

The proposal to build 500 houses at Paldi doesn't feel right and Mr. Kubica's prominent role, together with his failure to be direct when asked about his past, hasn't helped.

The project needs serious scrutiny from government before it moves ahead. The environmental concerns must be fully addressed. Relying on the proponents for assurances that it's all going to be good, isn't good enough. After all, as Mr. Kubica's past attests, things aren't always what they seem.

mhume@globeandmail.com

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