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Toronto Star May 27, 2000, - by Tony Van Alphen, Business Reporter
Ontario land agency in major overhaul
The Ontario government's embattled real estate branch rarely used outside brokers and multiple listing services in an attempt to get higher prices for properties it was selling, the head of the agency says.
Instead, staff at Ontario Realty Corp. for years simply took out standard newspaper advertisements to sell government land and buildings, agency president Tony Miele said in an interview.
Miele, who is on the hot seat over revelations of suspicious land deals and contracts involving Ontario Realty Corp. before his arrival, said that as part of a major overhaul, the agency is using both brokers and the listing services - the usual industry practice - to attract the greatest number of potential bidders.
``The emphasis we have now is on ensuring transparency and openness through listing asset sales with real estate brokers,'' Miele said.
``In the past, 90 per cent of all transactions were done internally. Only 10 per cent were given out to brokers.
`The emphasis we have now is on ensuring transparency and openness through listing asset sales with real estate brokers . . .
Now, we have a complete turnaround.'
- Tony Miele Ontario Realty Corp. president ``Now, we have a complete turnaround. About 90 per cent are going to MLS (multiple listing service), going on the open market.''
The agency has already filed a lawsuit alleging bid rigging, fraudulent invoicing and kickbacks against 24 parties including three former employees. In addition, the Ontario Provincial Police and outside forensic auditors are investigating all agency land sales in the last 15 years.
Miele refused to comment on allegations that taxpayers have lost millions of dollars because of questionable land deals and contracts.
``We have to allow the auditors to complete their review,'' he said. The agency has not set a deadline for the auditor's report. Miele indicated the government would make the findings public.
Miele said the government hired him as vice-president of special projects to review the agency's operations in January, 1999, and he found ``irregularities.'' He would not elaborate.
Miele, who became president in April, 1999, said he called in internal auditors last fall and they requested outside help. In restructuring the agency and some of its business practices including property marketing, Miele said it was difficult for some staff because they had worked the same way for two decades.
``The way it was structured and the way it was managed didn't allow for a lot of accountability and didn't allow for a lot of efficiency,'' he added.
The land agency has contracted out some work and cut staff from more than 1,000 to 200 in less than a year, he said. It's board of directors must now approve all land sales regardless of the value. In the past, the board only had to approve deals of $5 million or more, Miele said.
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