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Donkin offical with link to Westray-like blast quits
Local Xpress, April 15, 2016
A cement truck leaves the Donkin mine in Cape Breton in March. (TOM AYERS / Local Xpress)
by Frances Willick and Michael Gorman
A high-ranking official for the company planning to reopen the Donkin mine has resigned after the province banned him from being involved in the project.
Chris Blanchard was the vice-president of development at Cutlass Collieries, the owners of Kameron Collieries, the Halifax subsidiary of the Cline Group that owns mining rights at Donkin.
Blanchard’s name is well known in West Virginia, where he worked as the president of Performance Coal Co.
On April 5, 2010, Performance Coal’s Upper Big Branch mine exploded, killing 29 miners. It was the largest coal mine disaster in the United States in 40 years.
A provincial Labour and Advanced Education Department spokesman said officials were informed Tuesday of Blanchard’s resignation.
Blanchard was one of the executives dealing with the province early in the talks about reopening the mine. Duff Montgomerie, the deputy minister of labour and advanced education, said earlier this month that it wasn’t long before an Internet search by department staff brought Blanchard’s background to their attention.
As part of the process of reopening the mine, the staff in key on-site positions — such as mine manager, mining engineer and first-line supervisor — must meet certain qualification requirements and be approved by the province. Montgomerie said at least early on, it appeared the company was considering Blanchard for the role of mine manager.
Labour and Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan, who has reviewed reports from the blast in West Virginia, told Local Xpress in early April that the province made it clear to the company’s president that Blanchard being the mine manager was a non-starter if the company wanted approval to operate.
“They were responsive to the concerns that we raised,” said Regan.
Labour and Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan: "No mining will be done in Donkin until we're confident it can be done safely, because the safety of workers is our top priority." (RYAN TAPLIN / Local Xpress / File)
“For some of us, Westray isn’t 25 years ago — it was just the other day. For Nova Scotians, we take this seriously.”
Ed Griffith, Kameron’s vice-president, told Local Xpress on Tuesday that he could not divulge personnel-related information, including the reasons for Blanchard’s departure.
“Chris Blanchard resigned from the company and is not an employee of any of the Cline entities,” Griffith said in an email.
Blanchard did not respond to several requests for comment over the past two weeks.
The devastation at the Raleigh County mine sparked several investigations that concluded Performance Coal’s parent company, Massey Energy, failed to adequately maintain its mining equipment, provide proper ventilation or control the explosive coal dust inside the mine.
Although the mine was not unionized, the United Mine Workers of America investigated the tragedy. The organization’s report laid the blame for the disaster squarely at the feet of Massey Energy and its “corporate policy of production over safety,” and called for Blanchard to be subpoenaed.
“There were many factors that led to this disaster. But there is only one source for all of them: A rogue corporation, acting without real regard for mine safety and health law and regulations, that established a physical working environment that can only be described as a bomb waiting to go off,” the report states.
“And that same company established a working environment where, operating through subterfuge, fear and intimidation, management prevented any opportunity for the workers to know the full range of dangerous conditions in the mine, or to effectively protest them even if they did know.”
Another report, issued by the U.S. Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, said witnesses told investigators that Upper Big Branch managers threatened miners that their jobs would be in jeopardy if they blew the whistle on safety concerns.
“Production delays to resolve safety-related issues often were met by UBB officials with threats of retaliation and disciplinary actions,” says the Mine Safety and Health Administration report. “On one occasion when a foreman stopped production to fix ventilation problems, Chris Blanchard, PCC’s president, was overheard saying: ‘If you don’t start running coal up there, I’m going to bring the whole crew outside and get rid of every one of you.’ ”
Once, when a federal inspector shut down production in an area of the mine that was notorious for poor air quality, Blanchard called him on the mine phone to challenge the inspector’s findings and argue that the shutdown was unacceptable, noted a third report.
The federal mine safety agency’s report also found that the company made “systematic, intentional and aggressive efforts” to avoid compliance with safety standards, and kept two sets of books detailing hazards — one that was available to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and one that was not.
Mine employees told investigators they were regularly informed when inspectors were on the property — something that violates federal mine safety laws.
Photos of the miners killed in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion sit on a memorial under construction in 2012 in Whitesville, W. Va. (Upper Big Branch Memorial / Facebook)
Even so, the Upper Big Branch mine was cited for 517 safety violations by the U.S. mine safety agency in 2009, the year before the disaster, and 126 in the three months before the explosion.
In the hours after the explosion, Blanchard and a few other mine managers rushed underground, remaining there even after the Mine Safety and Health Administration ordered the mine closed to all but official rescuers or other authorized individuals. Blanchard and another mine manager were underground unsupervised for about four hours. Massey defended Blanchard’s actions, saying he was solely interested in helping rescue injured miners.
But the United Mine Workers of America report questioned Blanchard’s presence underground, especially in connection with the discovery of a piece of equipment that could have averted the explosion. The report notes that an apparently new, undamaged methane sensor that was not covered in soot or dust was found near the explosion site. That sensor would have shut down mine equipment if it had detected dangerous levels of explosive gas.
The third report on the disaster, issued by an independent investigation panel for the state governor, echoed that concern, stating that family members questioned whether company officials who entered the mine after the explosion “may have been attempting to locate and cover up evidence of corporate wrongdoing.”
“These company officials did not, according to rescue team members, provide adequate information about where they had gone or what they had discovered. Nor were they adequately debriefed,” the report says.
Massey’s CEO at the time, Don Blankenship, was convicted in December 2015 of conspiring to wilfully violate safety standards but was acquitted of felonies that could have garnered a 30-year prison sentence. On April 6, he was sentenced to one year in prison and fined $250,000.
Blanchard, however, exercised his Fifth Amendment rights, striking an agreement with prosecutors that granted him immunity from being indicted for his testimony at Blankenship’s trial as long as he told the truth. Blanchard testified in October 2015 that he did not conspire with Blankenship to commit mine safety violations.
He told the court that he once asked Blankenship for $1.8 million for a new ventilation air shaft, but his boss denied the request.
Echoes of Westray
The Westray Miners Memorial in New Glasgow is a monument to the 26 men who died in the Westray coal mine explosion in May 1992. (KATHLEEN FLANAGAN)
The story of the Upper Big Branch mine sounds familiar to Allen Martin.
“Everything I read about that explosion in Virginia, it was just eerie the similarities to Westray,” Martin says. “It was almost a perfect parallel.”
Martin’s brother, Glenn, was one of 26 miners who was killed when the Westray coal mine in Pictou County exploded in May 1992.
A report stemming from a public inquiry into the tragedy found that the mine’s ventilation system was inadequate, that Westray management repeatedly violated safety standards and that the provincial Labour Department did not sufficiently enforce the safety regulations.
Martin is not confident that the necessary regulatory changes have been made to prevent another Westray in Nova Scotia. He says Bill C-45 — federal legislation passed in the wake of the explosion to impose stricter health and safety regulations and stiffer fines for violations — is still not being used the way it should be, and that health and safety training are still lacking.
Fines for not complying with regulations are still not high enough, Martin adds.
“You have to make it more expensive for them to not do it. The fines are just ludicrous,” he says.
Martin worries that Nova Scotia is jumping at the chance to revive an industry in a depressed part of the province without first doing its due diligence.
“I would be shocked if the government tried to do anything different than they did at Westray. I hate to say it, but it’s an ingrained way of life here. You don’t ask too many questions if things are going your way.”
Regan said the tragedy in Pictou County resulted in a litany of changes to mining safety in this province.
“A lot of us are just very determined that this is not going to happen again.”
Recommendations implemented as a result of the Westray inquiry include not issuing provisional mining certificates, job descriptions for every position, and changes to training and rules for working underground, ventilation and how to deal with methane and dust, she said.
“There are guidelines for ministers as well,” said Regan. “I think a whole lot of things changed in the 25 years — because we’re almost at that point.”
The minister said she thinks there was a renewed interest in safety post-Westray and “I think in the last few years we’ve really stepped up our game around safety as well.” Of the approximately 30 permits required before Donkin could open, some of them require Regan’s signature.
“I want to be very clear,” she said. “No mining will be done in Donkin until we’re confident that it can be done safely, because the safety of workers is our top priority.”
Violations of the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act apply to mines, like any other workplace, and can be prosecuted through the provincial courts. Two years ago, the province hired a special Crown attorney to work specifically on occupational health and safety cases. Summary offence tickets can also be issued ranging from $472.50 to $822.50. Mines, like any other employer, are also subject to administrative penalties that can range from $100 to $2,000.
According to an email from a Labour Department spokesman, “Section 217.1 of the Criminal Code (duty of persons directing work) relates to (how) ‘everyone who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task.’ This cross-references with Sec. 249 of the Criminal Code (criminal negligence). Sec. 217.1 went through Parliament as Bill C-45 — the Westray Bill.
History of safety violations
Safety records published by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration shed some light on the track record at mines owned by the Cline Group, a major American mining company headed by Christopher Cline. The Donkin mine is one of Cline’s many operations in North America.
Local Xpress examined records of fatalities and violations of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act at four mining complexes in central and southern Illinois. The Williamson, Sugar Camp, Hillsboro and Macoupin mines are owned by Foresight Energy and Murray Energy.
Although Christopher Cline founded Foresight, he sold some interests in the company to Murray in 2015. But he continues to hold significant economic and voting interest in the company and now acts as chairman of the board and principal strategic adviser.
From Jan. 1, 2013, to March of this year, there were three fatalities in total at the four complexes and 107 injuries that required workers to either take time off or carry out alternate duties.
Foresight/Murray was cited for 3,774 violations of the act, including 836 that were deemed to be “significant and substantial” — in other words, violations that were likely to contribute to hazards that would “result in an injury or illness of a reasonably serious nature.”
The company was also issued penalties worth almost $5.3 million during that period.
“That’s not a good track record,” says Bob Burchell, the Canadian representative of the United Mine Workers of America who has been following the development of the Donkin mine. “It’s not normal in the U.S. for companies to be paying $6 million in fines and to be having those types of fatalities, especially when he’s only got three or four mines in Illinois.”
Although the Cline Group’s mines tend not to be unionized, Burchell will be working to unionize the Donkin mine once it’s up and running to help ensure that safety standards are followed.
He says the safety regulations in place now are “progressive,” but they must be adequately policed and enforced by the province.
“Mining is a very dangerous occupation and accidents do happen. And it’s not always the fault of the employer or the employee. It’s that type of industry. But there’s a lot of accidents that do happen that can be prevented if there’s proper foresight looking over it.”
A representative for the Cline Group did not respond to a request for comment. A representative for Foresight declined a request for an interview.
Industry facing challenges
A guard at the Donkin mine entrance is silhouetted in the security hut. (TOM AYERS / Local Xpress)
Some industry watchers question the viability of opening a coal mine in 2016, when the industry is struggling financially.
Foresight Energy disclosed in mid-March that it may have to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing heavy debt loads and an industry downswing.
The CEO of the Cline Group and Cutlass Collieries is relatively new to the Cline empire and has previously worked for other mining companies that later went bankrupt. Paul Vining joined the company in February 2015 after leaving his role as president of Alpha Natural Resources in January. Alpha purchased Massey Energy and the Upper Big Branch mine after the fatal explosion. Alpha filed for bankruptcy in August 2015, just months after Vining left.
Another coal company that Vining headed as president from 2008 to 2010, Patriot Coal Corp., filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012.
But bankruptcies in the mining world are not exactly uncommon. Over the past couple of months, North America’s second-largest coal company, Arch Coal, filed for bankruptcy protection, and some analysts believe the biggest, Peabody Energy Corp., will soon follow suit.
A report by the international consulting firm McKinsey & Company states the U.S. situation rather bluntly in its title: Downsizing the U.S. Coal Industry: Can a Slow-Motion Train Wreck Be Avoided?
The report, released in November, notes that demand for U.S. coal is decreasing as environmental controls become more stringent, natural gas becomes more common and the international market wanes. The authors estimate that by 2020, demand for U.S. coal will drop by at least 20 per cent from current levels, which is already 20 per cent below 2008 levels.
The industry is further saddled with the problems of overcapacity, chronic indebtedness, environmental liabilities and falling prices.
Since 2011, thermal coal prices have dropped by 20 to 40 per cent in the U.S. domestic market and by more than 60 per cent for exports, the report notes. Metallurgical coal prices have also dropped by more than 60 per cent from 2011 levels.
“The U.S. coal industry is still in the early stages of what could be decades of financial difficulty,” the report concludes.
Globally, coal consumption stagnated for the first time since the 1990s in 2014, according to the International Energy Agency. That halt is, in part, due to lower demand in China, which represents half of the world’s coal consumption, but also due to international climate change goals.
Although India and other areas of Southeast Asia are expected to increase their demand for coal, an International Energy Agency report on coal’s prospects to 2020 concludes that “the current market environment strongly discourages investments as a substantial rebound of coal prices before 2020 is unlikely.”
“Consequently, further postponements or cancellations of projects are expected.”
The outlook for the Canadian coal industry may not be much rosier. Natural Resources Canada says falling prices for metallurgical and thermal coal have prompted six Canadian coal mines to suspend operations since 2014, and other coal producers have reduced production.
So what are Cline’s prospects for success in Donkin?
Burchell of the United Mine Workers of America asks himself that very question.
“They’re investing all this money into Donkin and the market just doesn’t dictate that. I don’t know where he’s going to be selling his coal, and I can’t see Nova Scotia Power buying a lot of coal from them ... because Nova Scotia Power also answers to shareholders, and they can get coal a lot cheaper on the world market.
“He’s probably gambling and betting on the markets increasing.”
According to the website of Morien Resources, the Dartmouth company that sold its 25 per cent working interest in Donkin to Kameron Collieries in exchange for cash and royalties, potential markets for Donkin coal include Asia and the Atlantic Basin market.
A Nova Scotia Power spokeswoman said the utility is preparing to conduct test burns on samples from Donkin and, if the results are favourable, would then move to field tests at utility sites to determine if they can use the coal.
Kameron vice-president Griffith did not grant an interview to Local Xpress about the project’s prospects.
The Donkin mine has never been in production. It was first drilled in the 1980s, with over three kilometres of tunnels under the ocean, but when the price of coal fell, the project was put on hold. Eventually, the tunnels were allowed to flood. The new owners of the mine have been working to prepare the facility for its first coal production this year, and anticipate a 30-year lifespan for the project, with production of low-ash, high-energy coking and thermal coal.
University of Ottawa economics professor Jean-Thomas Bernard called the new owners of the mine “very courageous people.”
“I don’t know what these people are seeing in the future, but it’s hard to be optimistic about this project,” he said.
Bernard, who specializes in energy research and analysis, said the struggling global coal market would affect potential exports from Canada, and domestic consumption in the future will likely be affected by Canada’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“We know that there is a concern about greenhouse gas emission, and electricity produced from coal is the first target,” Bernard said.
“It is very, very hard to see, at this stage, how they can make it. Unless it is really, really cheap coal, really, really clean — but in the old days, Nova Scotia coal was not considered to be so clean. It’s very hard to see that this could be a profitable venture.”
'What happened to our money?':
Immigration counsellor faces fraud charges
The Windsor Star, January 3, 2011
Immigration consultant Sam Burgio speaks with The Windsor Star in his Windsor office in 2009. (Tyler Brownbridge / The Windsor Star)
By Frances Willick
Twenty-six fraud charges. Dozens of alleged victims. Ten years' worth of allegations. More than a million dollars.
The RCMP is calling the case against Windsor immigration counsellor Francesco Salvatore (Sam) Burgio "one of the largest investigations of this sort" in the city's history.
The 48-year-old immigration counsellor is accused of taking money from his clients -- either in trust, as fees for service or for payment to other bodies such as Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Windsor Social Services -- and failing to keep the money in trust, failing to provide service in return or failing to send the money to the appropriate organization.
According to court documents, the amounts Burgio is accused of defrauding from his clients start at $1,300 and escalate to $394,080.
"When you come to look at magnitude, it's important because (the allegations involve) preying on vulnerable people who are out there looking for assistance," said RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Annette Bernardon.
The next court appearance for Burgio, who remains free, is Tuesday. Several attempts to contact Burgio for comment on this story were unsuccessful.
Burgio's alleged victims are people who dreamed of a better life in Canada, longed to be reunited with family members, and were prepared to invest financially in this country.
His former clients describe the heartbreak of missing Christmases and birthdays with their children as they waited for their immigration papers to arrive.
They claim they later found their applications had never been filed.
"It used to bug me when I would drive down Ouellette Avenue and see the sign for Sam Burgio," said one former client, who contemplated placing a poster over the sign to expose Burgio.
When The Windsor Star reported on the first charges against Burgio in April 2010, the paper heard from more than a dozen people in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Pakistan who claimed to be former clients of Burgio.
They say they gave money to Burgio or his firm, got few or no results in return and, when they confronted him about it, he provided endless excuses and then ceased communicating with them.
Nadeem Mahmood of Sarnia, whose case is included in the criminal complaint, said he paid Burgio $7,500 around 2008 to bring two relatives and a friend from Pakistan to Canada on a work visa.
Mahmood, who works as a boiler and pressure vessel inspector, said he had his first misgivings when Burgio insisted on travelling from London to Sarnia on a snowy day to collect the fees -- in cash.
Six months after handing over a bank draft, Mahmood said he called Burgio for an update and was told it would take at least another six months. When Mahmood finally travelled to Windsor to confront him, Burgio called the police, Mahmood said. Eventually, Mahmood said Burgio simply stopped answering his phone calls and emails.
Mahmood's relatives in Pakistan began to believe Mahmood had deceived them. "The people who gave me money from back home from Pakistan kept asking me, 'What happened to our money?'" he said in an interview in the spring. "They were slowly saying, maybe thinking, I took their money."
Mahmood, who immigrated to Canada about four years ago, said not only did his dealings with Burgio cause a family upset and financial hardship for his relatives in Pakistan, but they've also soured his perception of Canada.
"I was under the impression that here in Canada, everything is pretty fair and clear. ... We thought people believed in the truth. It is no more in my heart that all the people are good here in Canada. This is a very sad thing," Mahmood said.
Since April, more than a dozen charges have been added to the case against Burgio, bringing the total to 17 counts of fraud over $5,000, nine counts of fraud under $5,000, one count of using a false statutory declaration and one count of false pretences. The sums amount to nearly $1 million in Canadian funds as well as US$153,980.
Many of Burgio's alleged victims said they never reported their suspicions to the authorities because they were afraid of compromising their immigration status.
"We were afraid that if we upset them, they could sabotage our application," said Ashley Agnew, a Michigan woman who, along with her Canadian husband Marc, hired Burgio to help them, first to allow Ashley to move to Canada, then to allow Marc to move to the U.S. Their dealings with Burgio are not included in the legal case against him. "We knew something was up but we didn't want to ruffle anyone's feathers. We didn't know if Sam could ruin this for us."
His former clients also say Burgio's charm helped keep them from complaining.
"He seemed very powerful," said Ashley. "His office is beautiful, he was always dressed very, very nice. He always made you think he knew what he was doing and he could get this done. He said, 'I'll make this my No. 1 priority.'"
The Yaafar brothers said they heard a number of excuses from Burgio. The four men, currently living in Panama, say they paid Burgio and Associates US$75,000 each in 2004 in support of their applications for permanent residence. They had planned to invest financially in Canada and make it their new home. Their claim against Burgio comprises the fraud charge involving the greatest amount of money -- $394,080.
Four years after handing over the money, they asked Burgio for their money back. At first, the email exchange between the Yaafars and Burgio was cordial. A December 2008 message from the youngest Yaafar brother, Adel, politely inquired about getting his money back: "Dear Sam, Hope everything is good on you [sic] side. I have sent you a couple of emails regarding the refund of our trust account. Could you please reply me on this. Best regards, Adel."
Burgio responded, saying he'd finalize the trust funds after the Christmas holidays.
By March 2009, Yaafar's requests sounded more urgent: "I need an answer for the round [sic] of my trust accounts. Situation is very tight and we need our money back. I cannot wait anymore."
Over the next nine months, emails from Burgio's firm to Yaafar and later to Yaafar's Dallas lawyer, Luis Bartolomei, blamed delays on a "really bad" computer virus, a Revenue Canada audit, out-of-town hearings, the death of a cousin, the death of an aunt, the news that another aunt was struck with cancer and a trip out of town to attend a church mass for the anniversary of his mother's death.
"He either has the biggest family in the world or they're unfortunate," said Bartolomei in a phone interview from Dallas. "They're like the Kennedys."
Burgio also blamed the delays on his own financial woes. In August 2009, he wrote, "It is with deep regret that I am writing to you regarding this matter because I would have never believed that I would be in this position after 21 years of practice." He revealed that his firm's funds were seized by Revenue Canada due to alleged GST tax arrears and that Revenue Canada had placed a lien for more than $320,000. Burgio claimed that his company failed to collect GST from its international clients because he didn't know they had to pay GST for non-Canadian clients. The GST came into effect in 1991.
In one letter, Burgio admitted he's "extremely stressed and discouraged" and said he's trying to sell his home, has requested a buyout from his shareholders and has applied for a business line of credit, but to no avail.
Toward the end of November 2009, after nearly a year of stalling, Burgio finally sent a proposed plan for repayment, but Bartolomei rejected it, saying the two-year payment plan was too long to wait for a refund.
Ultimately, all proposed repayment deals failed because Burgio refused to offer any collateral to the Yaafars as security for the US$300,000, Bartolomei said. "My clients said there's no reason to trust him -- why should we believe he would return anything that has no guarantee?"
How are his clients are feeling these days?
"They're obviously incredibly ticked off," Bartolomei said. "They were upset because they trusted him. They relied on what he said. They gave him the benefit of the doubt -- and I did too."
The brothers, who are financially stable despite their loss, have given up hope that they'll ever see their money again, Bartolomei said. "They're not going to get a dime, unless somehow every one of this guy's assets gets liquidated and it gets sold to his creditors, or if he wins the lottery or has some sort of hidden funds."
But even if the Yaafars never see a penny of their money, Bartolomei said he hopes the pending court case against Burgio will at the very least "give them satisfaction."
RCMP say clients paid $2K to $100K
The Windsor Star, April 16, 2010
By Frances Willick
A Windsor man working in the field of immigration consulting has been charged with 11 counts of fraud after allegedly bilking clients of up to $100,000.
Francesco Salvatore (Sam) Burgio, 45, of Amherstburg, is facing two counts of fraud over $5,000 and nine counts of fraud under $5,000.
An RCMP investigation found that clients of Burgio and Associates had paid the firm between $2,000 and $100,000 to submit applications to Citizenship and Immigration Canada on their behalf, but that the firm allegedly failed to file those documents.
While the yearlong investigation has yielded 11 alleged victims so far, the RCMP believes there may be others. Officers said victims may have been reluctant to come forward out of fear that their immigration status could be compromised, or out of embarrassment at having been allegedly defrauded.
Roughly 30 small claims lawsuits have been filed against Burgio or his firm dating back to the 1990s. Lauree Pasqualitto took Burgio and Associates to court in 2005, claiming that the company failed to file U.S. citizenship applications for her son after she paid Burgio US$1,500 to do so. "He kept telling me to be patient," she said in an interview last fall. "He always said, 'Don't worry. The applications are in.' (He had) every excuse in the book. I should have known the guy was a scam right from Day 1."
Pasqualitto said she repeatedly called the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to ask whether the documents had been filed, and was told the government had no record of the application. When she confronted Burgio, he had even more excuses, Pasqualitto said. "(Burgio) would say they're lying. He even said to me, 'Did you get the man's name so I can have him reprimanded?'"
According to court documents, though Burgio eventually acknowledged the firm had failed to process the application in a timely manner, the court dismissed the case because Pasqualitto was not able to prove damages.
Pasqualitto has reported her story to the RCMP, but isn't sure whether her case is included in the criminal charges announced Thursday. She said she was "just ecstatic" to hear of the charges against Burgio. "Hopefully he will get what is coming to him because it was years of aggravation for me and my family."
In another small claims court case, a University of Windsor student claimed she paid Burgio and Associates $6,250 to help her gain employment authorization and permanent residency status. Originally from China, the woman claimed Burgio's firm failed to file an appeal on her behalf, even though her contract with the company obligated it to do so.
While Burgio obtained a doctorate of law from the University of Detroit, he is not a licensed immigration lawyer nor a licensed immigration consultant. The Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, which regulates the consultancy industry, revoked Burgio's membership on May 5, 2006.
But Burgio tells a different story, claiming he voluntarily withdrew from the association because he was "quite offended" by the group's English language writing test requirement. During an interview last November, Burgio also claimed he withdrew because he found the delays and standards in the Canadian immigration system to be "totally unacceptable."
Since Burgio is not legally permitted to practise law or consultancy in Ontario, he says he hires licensed lawyers to work for him. "I say this confidently: I've been successful over the years that I can afford to pay lawyers to work for me."
When confronted about the civil cases against him, Burgio admitted it's possible his firm had wronged some clients. "I'm sure there's always one or two clients that maybe we did do wrong," he said. "We simply have to accept that and we have to compensate that person or deal with it in some other way."
He blamed the application delays on the slow Canadian immigration system and on mistakes made by his paralegal employees. Burgio said the economy, too, likely contributed to the number of civil cases against him, as clients facing tough financial times tried to recoup their legal fees through the court system.
Burgio gestured around his opulent office to point out the number of gifts that have been given to him by former clients as a token of their appreciation. "I hate to say this, but I find that oftentimes, an engineer is known for the bridge that fell down and not for the bridges that he designed successfully. That's the same with me. The overall picture -- I've helped a lot of people along the way. And there have been a few blemishes, and we try to reduce them as we go along."
Burgio will appear in court today for a bail hearing. The maximum sentence for convictions of fraud over $5,000 is 10 years in prison. Convictions of fraud under $5,000 carry a maximum prison term of two years.
The RCMP are asking anyone who may have been victimized by Burgio to contact the Windsor RCMP at 519-948-5287.
By Frances Willick
The party almost went off without a hitch.
Everyone in the neighbourhood spent the day eating barbecued hotdogs and hamburgers, watching kids play in bouncy castles near the parkette, hanging out with fellow residents of Drouillard Road and occasionally checking in on the progress of two pigs roasting slowly on a neighbour's front lawn.
But for at least one reveller, a celebratory drink led to too many celebratory drinks. When he accidentally started a small fire with one of the several lawnmowers stashed in his building, he alerted the fire department and landed himself in the drunk tank for the night.
It was the only glitch in an otherwise perfect day, says Lynn Stout, the "mom" of Drouillard Road, who helped organize the Canada Day party.
"We all fight our demons," she says. "I won't never give up on (him), but he does boil my blood sometimes." Stout and other residents of this plucky Windsor neighbourhood planned the fundraising party to help send area kids to summer camp.
Though the price is just $40 for a seven-week program, it's money that's simply not in the budgets of parents with low or fixed incomes.
Donations came in dribs and drabs, but when all the loonies and toonies were tallied, they totalled more than $800.
"Many of those that we deal with at Drouillard Place are on low income, they're working poor, they're struggling to make ends meet and keep their families together," says Marina Clemens, director of Drouillard Place, a local charity that runs the day camp.
"And yet they hold a barbecue and raise money so that the children in our neighbourhood can go to day camp. What other neighbourhood would do that? I don't think that ordinary people in Windsor would think that Drouillard Road would be able to do that." In perhaps the Canadian city most devastated by economic collapse and cuts in the auto sector, this is the most visibly wounded neighbourhood. Also known as Ford City, Drouillard's history was forged by the automotive industry, and its legacy remains in the area's street names: Henry Ford Centre Drive, Cadillac Street, Factoria Road.
But today, abandoned buildings, empty storefronts and derelict houses line the streets, where homes sell for as little as $19,900. The neighbourhood is crammed between the sprawling Ford plant to the east, a post-industrial wasteland to the west, an ugly concrete viaduct to the north and train tracks to the south.
To many, this is literally the wrong side of the tracks.
"I remember when I was first starting the church and we moved here, I had people who said, 'Oh, I don't feel safe walking down that street,' or, 'I wouldn't let my kids go there,'" says Kevin Rogers, pastor of New Song Church, which opened its doors in a former bar on Drouillard in 1997.
"That kind of past history and reputation has soured a lot of people from seeing that it's a fairly positive community." "Positive" is not likely the word that leaps to mind when most Windsorites think of Drouillard. But despite its reputation for crime, drugs and prostitution, this is a neighbourhood of small graces and big dreams, where residents seed wildflower mix in their city parks and where everyone -- including the criminals, the "crackerjacks" (crack addicts) and the prostitutes -- is invited to the dinner table.
Among the barren facades and dilapidated buildings are also tidy, well-kept houses with flowering gardens. Among the financially strapped residents are also professionals, working-class families and retirees. As the neighbourhood struggles to find its feet, organizations such as Drouillard Place, New Song Church, the Ford City Business Improvement Association and the Gino Marcus Community Centre are lending a hand.
On Aug. 8, a new splashpad for kids will open at Drouillard Park. Soon, every home and business on Drouillard will get a new civic address plate with the Ford City logo of a Model T. A new European restaurant is in the works for Drouillard Road, and plans are underway for a community garden in one of the vacant lots.
That garden will bring back memories for one woman who has lived in the area for about 70 years. The 86-year-old, who doesn't want her name published, remembers Drouillard during the Great Depression when residents farmed carrots, cabbages and onions in a community garden between Seminole Street and the train tracks. "After Halloween, you could take stuff from anyone's gardens," she says. "Of course, there was nothing else left after Halloween -- maybe some beets or something." When the city bounced back in the '30s and '40s, the street was positively thrumming. Grocery stores, hardware stores, bakeries, a dry goods store, doctor's offices, an appliance shop, a shoe store -- "you couldn't find an empty store on Drouillard Road," she says.
Now, she doesn't venture out much. Gone are the days of walking home at midnight after the community dances, or taking off to Toronto without even locking the front door.
"It's not carefree anymore," she says. "I miss it." Today, no one here denies that addiction and crime exist in the neighbourhood. "We're the island of misfit toys," Stout says. The difference on Drouillard, she says, is that those "misfits" are embraced rather than shunned.
Take Charlie Ukrainyc.
"I'm just a bad apple," he says, slurring his words slightly from under a baseball cap turned sideways. "I'm a fool. I'm a con artist. I'm a drunk." On this hot summer day when others are dressed in singlets and shorts, Ukrainyc is wearing gloves, pants and a jacket.
Last year, he caught on fire.
Stout says he was lighting a cigarette from the stove when the blanket wrapped around him ignited. Ukrainyc, 47, says he doesn't remember how the fire started.
"I got drunked up and I was partying and I got stupid and went up in flames," he says.
While he was recovering in a London hospital, folks from Drouillard visited him. His landlord saved Ukrainyc's room until he returned. And, as he rides his purple bike around the neighbourhood, wearing gloves to protect his hands from the sun, the neighbourhood continues to help him out.
"He's a good guy," says his neighbour Mike Baker, who slips Ukrainyc the occasional $20 bill or pack of cigarettes. "End of the month, he owes me $100 usually. He won't forget. He never has yet. Every nickel." Ukrainyc has other ways of giving back, too. He helps shovel snow and take out the garbage. One day, Baker returned home to find a garden in his yard, complete with a picket fence, plastic sheep, birdbath, fake tree and a couple of plastic windmills. "It's just his way of beautying up the neighbourhood," Baker says.
And there's "Robo." His real name's Bill Iggulden, but most residents don't know that. They call him Robo -- after the movie character RoboCop -- because of his stilted gait. At the Canada Day party, he's wearing a fluorescent orange and yellow safety vest and a ball cap with "FBI" stitched on the front.
The neighbourhood's self-appointed security guard, Robo, 52, patrols the area to keep an eye on things after dark. If someone forgets to lock the door of the church, he sleeps on the front step. "Even the Windsor police, quite a few of them go by and give me the thumbs up," he says with a spark of pride in his deep, drawling voice that sounds like an outboard motor.
During the day, the deeply tanned, slight man does odd jobs for local businesses and residents. One day you'll find him tweaking bolts under the belly of a Winnebago, the next you'll find him watering the flowers at the orthodox church.
When a fire decimated a former bakery last summer, Robo was the first on the scene, helping rescue sleeping residents from the building next door.
"That's what I live for -- to risk myself, to take care of matters no matter what it takes, even if it means myself," he says. "That's called respect for the neighbourhood and love for the people around here." Then there's Shirley, a woman in her late 40s with special needs who gathers bottles to collect the coin deposits. When she was diagnosed with cancer, Stout says Shirley temporarily stayed with her neighbours, Fred and Linda, while her apartment was being readied for her return.
"Fred tucked her in. That was the first time she ever got tucked in," Stout says. "For the people who grew up backwards and didn't have the love at the beginning, they sure as hell got it at the end." Sure, there are "working girls" on Drouillard says resident, Frank Vaillancourt. "In the wintertime when they're standing out there for four hours and it's minus 10 degrees, (we'll say) 'Hey, get over here. Have a bowl of stew and a piece of bread, warm up for an hour.'" On Friday nights, everyone is welcome at New Song Church's community supper, now in its 12th year. Music, voices and clattering dishes compete in the clamour as about 120 people are served dinner -- potato salad, cold cuts, baked beans and buns. Though it's held in a church, there's nothing "preachy" about the gathering, says Rogers. It's just a place for people to come together, grab a bite and have a chat.
During the years he's spent in the neighbourhood, Rogers says he's seen Drouillard residents "living on the edge," "heading for a wall," or worse.
The painful moments of his ministry -- officiating at funerals for people who overdosed or committed suicide, or seeing residents make bad decisions and go to jail -- are balanced by the everyday blessings of Drouillard's many characters.
"I never have a boring day," Rogers says. "I love people that are colourful and that wear their heart on their sleeve. Among the poor there's a lot of honesty. There's a lot of sharing and looking out for each other and generosity. So, for me, I just feel that that's probably where Jesus would have hung out. And that's where I want to be."
Family, loyalty and respect are the laws for some in Ford City. Drouillard Road was a booming cultural hub in the mid 1930s, but when the Ford Assembly plant closed in the 1950s, the area fell into decline. What once was a busy street of shops and restaurants is now a row of boarded-up buildings with a handful of active businesses. Drouillard Road is home to a mixture of working class people. Everyone seems to have a story about the environment they live in. (Ben Nelms / The Windsor Star)