Former Toronto tech CEO David Kalman accused of not paying employees and forging cheques
University student says he's out $12K in wages, photographer alleges more than $80K in forged cheques
Lors Kushtov worked for a Toronto tech company for three months and all he has to show for it is a fake cheque and experience he can't put on his resume.
The University of Toronto student says he was never paid a dime for his work building websites for dHack and its CEO David Kalman, who was accused of taking advantage of young people in the tech community as previously reported by CBC Toronto.
Kushtov signed a contract that promised him $55,000 a year, paid bi-weekly. The 20-year-old says dHack owes him roughly $12,000 in wages — money he was counting on to pay his tuition in January.
"I'm a very independent person. I don't want to rely on my parents," said Kushtov. "Stuff like OSAP doesn't cover all of it, so I was relying on my job."
And he's not the only one waiting for payment, according to several people CBC Toronto spoke with.
Two months ago, members of the city's tech community told CBC Toronto they believed Kalman was taking advantage of young people by not fulfilling sponsorship contracts for more than $20,000 and failing to deliver prizes tied to youth events.
Since then, CBC Toronto has heard from several people with concerns about Kalman, including allegations of unpaid contracts and wages and attempts by Kalman to cash stolen and forged cheques.
Last month, Kalman shut down dHack and shuttered all of its social media. The move came after Kushtov — and other dHack employees he knows — quit in late January because he says they'd never been paid.
He said, 'Slide it into the bank machine. Don't give it to the teller.' That was kind of fishy.- Lors Kushtov , former dHack employee
That was the same day Kushtov says Kalman gave him a fake cheque for nearly $10,000.
"He said, 'Slide it into the bank machine. Don't give it to the teller.' That was kind of fishy," Kushtov told CBC Toronto. "I took it out of the envelope and I saw … basically a piece of paper anyone could have printed."
After a teller confirmed the cheque wasn't real and couldn't be cashed, Kushtov says he went back to the office and handed his resignation to Kalman.
"At that point, I knew he's just messing with us. He just thinks we're kids and we don't know how this works," said Kushtov. "He doesn't say outright, 'I'm not going to pay you,' but then he just doesn't."
When asked to respond to the allegation that he gave an employee a fake cheque, Kalman told CBC Toronto "that's not true."
Kushtov and two other dHack employees have since filed claims with the province for unpaid wages. The Ministry of Labour says the three claims against dHack are in the initial processing stage.
Kalman told CBC Toronto in an email that after he resigned, "the settling of final business matters has been in the hands of the lawyer handling the corporate dissolution. He has been consistently in contact with all former dHack employees regarding payroll."
Kushtov says no one has contacted him on behalf of dHack.
Photographer says Kalman forged cheques
CBC Toronto has learned the cheque-related allegations against Kalman don't end with the fake one Kushtov received.
He first met Kalman last summer through a mutual friend. He says the two of them were planning to do some video production work together, but at the time Katan was too busy with his photography business to get started.
In the meantime, Katan says Kalman offered to help him out with some IT stuff in his studio office. Katan accepted the help and Kalman started spending time there.
David was planning to pay him back with my business.- Ben Katan , Toronto photographer
But after a dispute with Kalman over some Amazon purchases that never arrived and other unexpected charges on Katan's company credit card, Katan says he told Kalman he was no longer welcome.
After that, someone tried to cash a cheque for $16,500 from his photography studio's bank account, Katan told CBC Toronto.
The man told Katan that Kalman gave him the cheque to pay back a debt. CBC Toronto confirmed that account with the man.
"It was a stressful time," said Katan. "David was planning to pay him back with my business."
Katan reported the forged cheque to Toronto police after he discovered it in July 2017. Police say the case was recently closed because the complainant no longer wanted to pursue it.
Katan says he gave police the information he had but was too busy to be actively involved in the investigation.
That wasn't the last forged cheque the photographer would have to deal with.
Bank blocks more cheques made out to Kalman
In early February, Katan's bank contacted him about two suspicious cheques it stopped from cashing — and more would follow.
Katan provided CBC Toronto copies of five cheques the photographer says he never wrote, but someone tried to cash from his personal bank account last month.
Together the five cheques amount to just over $70,000 that Katan alleges Kalman tried and failed to cash in from his personal account.
In an email, Kalman told CBC Toronto, "I categorically deny ever using anyone's chequebook without permission, and frankly, this is a libellous statement."
Still no prizes, others waiting for payment
When CBC Toronto reached out to Kalman for the initial story in January, he said some of the missing prizes students were waiting on would be available for pick up at the dHack office the following week.
But the missing prizes never showed.
In late January, Kalman issued a news release saying that he'd been the "target of multiple death threats in the wake of unsubstantiated allegations" and "as part of the ongoing criminal investigation, the RCMP has seized the unclaimed prizes."
As CBC Toronto previously reported, two organizations were also waiting on $16,000 and $7,000 respectively from Kalman in sponsorship for youth events.
Both the Toronto Hacker Club and Knowledge Society of Toronto confirm they've yet to see a penny. The latter has taken Kalman to small claims court.
And a communications agency is following suit.
In a statement to CBC Toronto, Eighty-Eight agency managing director Erin Bury says Kalman hired the company to provide "various design and PR services for dHack."
"Despite repeated promises that payment was on its way, it's now months later and we've yet to see a dime," said Bury.
"We are currently pursuing legal action against Mr. Kalman and advise other startup founders to stay away from him and his company, as we're sure we're not the first company he's defrauded nor will we be the last."
Nicole Brockbank can be reached at 416-205-6911 or at firstname.lastname@example.org