Paper records reveal story of disappearing Bondfield emails relating to $300 million St. Michaels Hospital contract before contractor’s collapse into creditor protection

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Ontario Construction Report staff writer

Investigators with Ernst and Young Inc. (E&Y) have alleged in court filings that Bondfield Construction Company Ltd.’s former chief executive officer received tips from an insider close to St. Michael’s Hospital (SMH) before the company won a $300-million contract to redevelop the downtown Toronto hospital in 2014-15.

Bondfield sought creditor protection last year. The business’s failure resulted in more than $200 million in surety claims to Zurich Insurance Company Ltd., the largest surety loss in Canadian history.

The Globe and Mail, citing documents posted on the E&Y website relating to the company’s bankruptcy, wrote that John Aquino received the messages “from a St. Michael’s insider who had been given a ‘concealed’ Bondfield.com e-mail account.”

See court filing documents here:

Motion Record re Preservation Order, returnable April 13, 2020

Order re Preservation and Investigation, dated April 13, 2020 (Issued Version)

Aquino was fired in 2018. “The court filings contain evidence that the sender of those messages was Vas Georgiou – who was the second-highest ranking executive at St. Michael’s at the time the emails were written,” the newspaper reported.

E&Y said it discovered the emails in March, after current CEO Stephen Aquino (John’s brother) learned about them and reported them after they were discovered as Bondfield was leaving its leased premises.

Earlier, while John Aquino was in charge, Bondfield sued the Globe and Mail for libel after the newspaper initially reported on possible problems with the St. Michaels Hospital contract in 2015.

Documents seeking a Preservation and Investigation Order issued on April 13 say that the Globe and Mail “began publishing a series of articles regarding the background of Vas Georgiou, then a senior executive” at the hospital.

The newspaper reported that St. Michael’s Hospital was reviewing Mr. Georgiou’s tenure at the hospital after learning that he “had been involved in a false invoicing scheme at an Ontario university while working at Infrastructure Ontario (IO).”

“Starting on September 24, 2015, the Globe and Mail published a series of articles about the Bondfield Group . . . making various allegations of improper relationships involving Mr. Georgiou, Bondfield, Aquino (the former president of BCCL) and GP8 Sportwater (GP8) in the context of Bondfield’s selection as the successful bidder on the SMH Project.”

The Ernst and Young investigator reports in the court filings that, more recently, as Bondfield was preparing to move from its current leased premises, “certain paper files containing information related to the SMH project were identified.” These included a May 2014 email between John Aquino and an email address named: BCCLDevelopment@lbondfield.com.

Among other assertions, the E&Y investigator wrote that “the party that used the BCCLDevelopment@bondfield.com address engaged in discussions with John Aquino about the proposed terms of the BCCL bid for the SMH Project, prior to the submission of that bid, including providing advice to Mr. Aquino about the terms of the proposed BCCL bid” and that the email address was intentionally hidden from the Bondfield’s company list. As well, certain emails to and from that account identified its user as “Vas”, the court filing says.

The court documents say that audit logs for the Bondfield email archiver show: “On September 15, 2015 and September 16, 2015, immediately after the first of the above described Globe and Mail articles about Mr. Georgiou was published, searches were conducted by a user of the ‘admin’ account on the Bondfield account archiver for messages containing the terms: ‘BCCL Development’; ‘gp8.ca’, ‘vas.georgiou’; and ‘Vas Georgiou’.”

The E&Y documents filed with the court say that more than 4,600 separate messages were identified by the searches, and these were deleted on Sept. 18, 2015.

The Globe and Mail reports that Steven Aquino, who replaced his brother as Bondfield’s CEO in 2018, said in an emailed statement that “when the existence of the (paper copy of the) emails was brought to his attention, he immediately provided them to Ernst and Young.”

The monitor’s lawyer, Alan Merskey, said in an emailed statement to the newspaper that there is no evidence that Steven Aquino, “or any other members of the ‘current executive management of Bondfield’ were involved in the creation of the concealed email account or the destruction of records.”

On April 13, Justice Glenn Hainey issued an order requiring several people – including current and former Bondfield employees and Georgiou, to preserve any records concerning the concealed e-mail account. The order also requires anyone with any information about the destruction of the (original) emails “to advise the monitor immediately of those steps.”

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