A judge has convicted a Toronto contractor of pocketing $1.24 million after he did not complete promised renovation projects.
Adam Gardin, 37, pleaded guilty last year to 11 charges of engaging in an “unfair practice” under Ontario’s Consumer Protection Act.
Crown prosecutor Jeremy Ludlow asked the court to sentence Gardin to four years in a federal penitentiary and pay $850,000 in restitution to his victims.
“This is worse than fraud,” Ludlow told justice of the peace Patrick Marum.
“It would have been better if he had just taken their money and walked away. He destroyed their houses. This has a greater impact — a lasting effect,” Ludlow said.
In January 2005, Gardin’s Toronto construction company, GarCon Building Group, went out of business without warning.
The abrupt shutdown left more than a dozen consumers with unfinished projects. Many had paid Gardin more than $100,000 for incomplete work that left home interiors gutted and uninhabitable.
Karim Hajee and his wife, Salima Nanji, paid Gardin $155,909 for a major home renovation project valued at $547,000.
Gardin’s company did very little work other than demolition and the excavation of a large hole in their backyard.
“He was cocky, cavalier and arrogant towards all of us. He was thumbing his nose at us, saying he was going to get away with this. We couldn’t let that happen. That’s why we’re here today,” Hajee told Global News.
Gardin’s victims read or submitted victim impact statements to the court, some in tears.
One man said he melted down gold bar mitzvah jewelry in order to raise $1,000 to pay his bills after losing money to Gardin’s company.
Another customer called his experience “maddening and saddening,” while another called Gardin’s conduct a “betrayal.”
Even as Gardin’s company was nearing bankruptcy, he continued to accept large deposits from customers, hiding the company’s financial situation from everyone.
Gardin, tracked down by Global News in 2015 for a roadside interview, said he was “just the owner” of the company.
“The money went into the company,” Gardin tried to explain while sitting in the driver’s seat of his pickup truck.
“I’m the owner of the company, unfortunately, yeah,” he went on after a reporter reminded him that the company was his alone.
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Court heard that while his customers were struggling to pay bills and attempting to locate other contractors to finish the work for which Gardin’s company had been paid, Gardin’s lifestyle wasn’t affected.
His children continued to attend private school. In one year, Gardin spent about $100,000 at casinos in Niagara Falls and Windsor, although his defence lawyer told the court that Gardin does not have a gambling addiction.
Eventually, Gardin left Toronto and took his wife and four children to Southfield, Mich., where he was born. He is living there today and owns several properties in the state.
“I truly wish I had not caused so many people to suffer,” he told the court, reading from a prepared statement.
Marum, the justice of the peace, will announce Gardin’s sentence on July 26. In the meantime, Gardin is free.
The prosecutor says Gardin raised about $1.9 million from the sale of several properties in Michigan in the last couple of years and should be able to pay back a substantial amount of what he took from people like Hajee.
“The ideal situation is he goes to jail and we get our money back. That would be great,” Hajee said. “Because he doesn’t deserve to walk a free man the way he is right now.”
—With files from Jordyn Read