The latest headline regarding our mayor’s business dealings outside city hall shouldn’t come as any great surprise.
“It was not a pleasure to do business with you,” it read. According to Free Press reporter Chip Martin, these words were sent to Mayor Fontana in an email from Trif Aurora, a Romanian lawyer hired to introduce Fontana, chairman of the management team at GPEC Global, to municipal officials in Romania with an eye to landing contracts to build a waste to energy system for their community.
The company was relatively new, having sprung up, it seems, in 2008, not long before Fontana joined the board of directors at Trinity Global Support Foundation at the invitation of his boyhood friend, Vincent Ciccone.
Fontana was between jobs. In the fall of 2006 he had vacated his seat in parliament after his party had lost the government and he his cabinet post, following the general election in January. He decided to find a position a little closer to home by running for mayor.
That turned out to be a bust, as did an offer from a neighbour in Arva, Robert Vanier, to start up an energy company, Allus Power Inc., in 2007. Although Fontana was made president of the company, he decided to leave it after his company car was towed out of his driveway for non-payment of the lease. Later we learned that Vanier had a long criminal history and ties to the Hell`s Angels. He was also in trouble with the Ontario Securities Commission for another energy investment company known as Onco which cost investors millions of dollars.
"It wasn't really a partnership," Fontana told the London Free Press. "It was a short-lived business encounter."
In an interesting side note, when Vanier`s Richmond St. office was being sold, it was purchased by Loredana Onesan of FinCore Solutions. A year later, she would become a director of Trinity Global Support Foundation at Fontana`s invitation. Currently, she has an application with the city for a $300M development on property owned by the city which she hopes to acquire as soon as possible.
In the meantime his friend and business partner, Vince Ciccone, was having problems of his own. He was trying to find investors to contribute to his firm but running afoul of the Ontario Securities Commission. While Fontana claimed that he had no knowledge of Ciccone`s business dealings despite their serving together on the Trinity charity board, others, including Ciccone, claim that Fontana played an important role in reassuring potential investors that Ciccone was a reputable guy; their money was safe with him.
So far, the investors have yet to see any sign of their original investment, let alone any interest or dividends.
These unfortunate experiences seem not to have deterred Fontana from activity in the energy sector. He soon became the Canadian director for Omniwatt, a German company, which has an office in London although there is little indication on its website about its current activity. He also became chair person of the Green Power Enviro Corp. No evidence of its existence can be found on the Internet today.
But GPEC Global, the company which ran into difficulty in Romania, still has a presence on the Internet even though it has seen its share of difficulties and the loss of its management team leader, Joe Fontana.
I first came across the website when Fontana began to talk about partnering with Toronto to develop a waste to energy plant to deal with Toronto garbage. In Something smells I wondered whether there might be some conflict of interest between the mayor`s two roles as elected official and businessman. He eventually stepped down from the GPEC position—at least his name was removed from the website—but not before I heard a complaint from a reader who had invested in the company but who was not receiving any of the promised dividends nor, indeed, any statements despite repeated enquiries. She had assumed that the company would be a safe one to invest in since it had billed itself as a "Christian business".
Apparently the connection to religion also appealed to Antonui Bacsa, the unlucky Romanian immigrant engineer who got caught up in GPEC`s rhetoric and ill-fated projects. One of Fontana`s partners, Derk Maat, maintained a blog about the company and its "kingdom principles". In it he notes how Tony (Bacsa) had never heard "a teaching that brought the Kingdom of Jesus Christ into the boardrooms of the marketplace." He was encouraged to read materials by self-styled evangelist, Ed Silvoso, who promoted GPEC Global and other companies on his Harvest Evangelism website. Then Bacsa was sent to Romania to engage city officials by promoting GPEC as a Christian company.
"Tony searches out cities that are relatively corruption free and engages each group or individual in discussions to select only individuals and or groups that are transparent and work with integrity to bring transformation of garbage to electricity in a way that truly blesses the community," wrote Maat in 2008.
Unfortunately, the integrity seems not to have gone both ways. Claiming that they had failed to attract sufficient investment to follow through on agreements and contracts, GPEC officials left the communities without energy, let alone the promised affordable housing and day care facilities, and Basca without a pay cheque.
For Bacsa, Romania, and GPEC investors, this was a lose, lose, lose situation. The Romanian consultant asked GPEC to leave. Basca has filed a million dollar lawsuit. What the investors are likely to do remains to be seen.
As for GPEC Global, the two other officers named in the lawsuit, Derk and Derek Maat, have an engineering firm that is looking for business, and Fontana has a charity that is generating interest from CRA and a well-paid job as mayor of London, Ontario. He is much in the news.
But if you click on News on the GPEC website, you will learn that "There are no news items."