Elliot Lake Inquiry hears about mall-owner's 'scheme'

The public inquiry probing last summer's mall roof collapse has heard about a dubious scheme employed by owner Bob Nazarian to pay for roof repairs in the years just before the collapsed at the Algo Centre Mall.

Collapsed mall owner's lawyer says no work done by Empire Roofing on Algo Centre roof

Elliot Lake lawyer Antoine-Rene Fabris worked for mall owner Bob Nazarian between 2005 and 2012. (Elliot Lake Public Inquiry) (Elliot Lake Public Inquiry)

The public inquiry probing last summer's mall roof collapse has heard about a dubious scheme employed by owner Bob Nazarian to pay for roof repairs in the years just before the collapse at the Algo Centre Mall.

During testimony on Thursday, Elliot Lake lawyer Antoine-Rene Fabris, who worked for Nazarian between 2005 and 2012, was asked about invoices from a company called Empire Roofing and Restoration Inc. for work on the mall.

Follow a live blog of Friday's testimony from CBC Reporter Megan Thomas:

The inquiry has heard previous evidence that mall owner Bob Nazarian asked his employee Alexandre Sennett  — who had no construction experience — to set up Empire Roofing and Restoration Inc.

The company had no employees and was described as a "shell."

The invoices from Empire Roofing appear to indicate more than a million dollars of work on the mall roof in 2008.

Commission lawyer Mark Wallace asked Fabris: "To your knowledge, there was never any work performed by Empire Roofing and Restoration on the roof, correct?"

"That's correct, to my knowledge," Fabris replied.

Financing in jeopardy

The inquiry has also heard evidence indicating the bank was threatening to pull Nazarian's mortgage on the mall in 2008 because the building — which had leaked for decades — was in such poor condition.

Fabris told the inquiry he understood Empire Roofing was created as a way for Nazarian to obtain more financing.

"There was the thought that Mr. Sennett could obtain funding through government agencies through Empire Roofing," Fabris said.

"I did provide [Nazarian] my opinion of what I thought of the scheme."

Fabris told the inquiry the Empire Roofing company was folded shortly after the invoices failed to help Nazarian obtain a loan from a local business development agency called ELNOS.

Mall owners to testify later this month

On June 23, 2012, a section of the mall’s roof crashed down on unsuspecting shoppers and mall employees, killing two women and injuring dozens more.

So far, the inquiry has heard evidence of dubious design and construction — a roof that leaked almost from day one, rusting away the steel structure until it looked like something found in a marine environment.

It’s also heard how the roof was never properly fixed, and testimony about officials who could have shut down the mall for safety reasons but never did.

The owners of the mall, Bob and Levon Nazarian, are scheduled to testify later this month.

From there, the inquiry will move into its next phase that will look at the rescue efforts

Former Premier Dalton McGuinty called for the inquiry in the days after the tragedy. He is scheduled to testify Oct. 2.

The public inquiry, established in July 2012 by the Ontario government, has been underway in Elliot Lake since March.

It was created to report on events surrounding the mall roof's collapse, the deaths of Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizzolo, the injuries to others and the emergency management and response.