Police probing Vaughan ex-mayor scrutinize ties to city contractors
Michael Di Biase denies receiving free or discounted work on his family cottage
Provincial anti-corruption police are pondering what, if any, charges they might lay against the beleaguered former mayor and deputy mayor of Vaughan, following a three-year investigation into the building of his family cottage that has broadened to look at whether he accepted free or discounted work from a number of municipal contractors.
The investigation into Michael Di Biase has involved scrutinizing years of city hall records going as far back as his mayoral term from 2002 to 2006, as well as interviews with numerous current and former senior municipal officials plus staff at multiple construction companies, several people interviewed by police said.
Central to the police probe is whether Di Biase, who served on Vaughan city council in one capacity or another for 28 of the last 33 years, obtained free or deeply discounted supplies or services as his family built a lakefront cottage north of Barrie.
"The investigation has gone back to the original purchase of the property by parties related to Mr. Di Biase, but is primarily focused upon the circumstances surrounding the construction and expert consultation, and the payment for those services, during the years 2013 to 2016," said Det.-Insp. Martin Graham, the Ontario Provincial Police officer overseeing the probe, in a brief statement to CBC.
Graham would not say what charges, if any, police are contemplating against Di Biase, or when they might be brought. He did say that "no companies that were involved in the building or construction of the residence are subjects of the criminal investigation; they are simply being viewed as witnesses."
Di Biase denies accepting any benefits or advantages in the construction of his family cottage. In a short telephone interview late last month, he said he "did not get any help at all" from any firms that he dealt with at city hall.
He has hired criminal lawyer Marie Henein — known for defending such clients as former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi and onetime Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant — and referred all other questions to her.
Henein did not reply to phone calls and an email.
The probe by the OPP's economic crime and corruption squad began by focusing on Di Biase's possible ties to a company called Maystar General Contractors, a Vaughan construction firm that has received more than $150 million in business from the city since 2002, including the contract to build city hall.
A CBC investigation in 2014 had found that work on Di Biase's cottage appeared to involve personnel from Maystar, though Maystar president Joe Maio denied his company had a hand, saying "we don't build cottages." The next year, a code of conduct probe by the city's integrity commissioner found that Di Biase had bullied and sworn at municipal staff behind the scenes "with a view to ... assisting" Maystar in its attempts to get city contracts.
But police have expanded their scope to look at Di Biase's possible links to other significant city contractors too — companies that have received millions of dollars in business from Vaughan, according to people familiar with officers' inquiries. Investigators are said to have asked questions about everything from Di Biase's mayoral charitable foundation to deals to build a library and community centre.
They also obtained surveillance footage of Di Biase consulting files at city hall's procurement department, according to one source. The integrity commissioner had relied on the same footage in finding that Di Biase improperly inserted himself into the bidding process for some city contracts.
Di Biase served as mayor of Vaughan from 2002 to 2006, as a local and regional councillor from 1985 to 2002 and 2010 to 2014, and as a councillor and deputy mayor from 2014 until his departure last year.
He resigned from elected office after a separate investigation by Vaughan's ethics czar found he sexually harassed a city employee, touching her breasts and kissing her on multiple occasions despite her objections. Di Biase denied wrongdoing and claimed any physical interaction was consensual.
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