Former Burlington building owner helped develop Florida condo that collapsed

As rescuers continued to search for survivors of a Florida condo collapse, a new Canadian connection emerged: a man who once owned apartment buildings in Burlington, Ont., and was charged with evading taxes in the 1970s had a hand in the condo’s development, according to U.S. media reports.The Washington Post reported Saturday that Nathan Reiber, a former lawyer from Toronto who died in 2014, was involved in a real estate partnership that developed the 12-storey Champlain Towers, the 40-year-old building where 11 people have been confirmed killed and more than 150 others are still missing — four of them Canadians from three different families, according to Global Affairs Canada.As the search for survivors continued Monday in the community of Surfside, north of Miami Beach, U.S. media focused on how an engineer warned in 2018 that he’d discovered structural problems with the building. Scrutiny of Champlain Towers’ history is growing, including its origins, going back to Reiber.In 1996, the Hamilton Spectator reported Reiber, then 69, had gone to Miami more than 15 years earlier to avoid Revenue Canada. He and two business partners had been charged in the early 1980s with tax evasion and bookkeeping aimed at hiding income.The trio owned apartment buildings in Burlington, where, according to reports, they’d “skimmed” roughly $131,000 from self-operated coin laundries, late Spectator reporter Paul Legall wrote.In July 1996, Reiber was fined $60,000 after pleading guilty to tax evasion in a Toronto court. He was given one year to pay the fine. Reiber was also convicted of evading $59,500 in federal taxes by failing to declare $102,297 in income from 1971 to 1976, Legall reported.The court also heard he and his partners had cheated the tax department by issuing $120,000 in cheques to an unidentified person for construction work that never happened. The funds were placed in the partners’ personal accounts.A warrant was issued for Reiber’s arrest in the early 1980s after he went to Florida. He came back to Canada voluntarily.After he settled in Florida, Reiber’s retirement was short-lived, according to his obituary in the Miami Herald. He began building real estate there, including Champlain Towers, completed in 1986. An obituary in the Globe and Mail said he died in Miami in 2014, at age 86, after a battle with cancer.Now, as much of the building sits in ruins, a former condo board member, Max Friedman, told the Post that the 2018 engineer’s warnings resulted in a $15-million (U.S.) construction project to make repairs. “It was an expensive project.”The building collapsed just days before a deadline for condo owners to start making steep payments towards repairs that had been recommended nearly three years earlier, in a report that warned of “major structural damage.”A U.S. federal team of scientists and engineers is conducting a preliminary investigation at the site and will determine whether to launch a full probe of what caused the building to come down.Despite the engineer sounding the alarm, a town building official told condo board members their building was in “very good shape” almost three years before it collapsed, according to minutes of that meeting released Monday.Investigators planned to review the engineer’s reports in their probe of how the building collapsed, the Post story said. Authorities said their efforts were still a search-and-rescue operation, but no one has been found alive since hours after the collapse on Thursday. The pancake collapse of the building has left layer upon layer of intertwined debris, frustrating efforts to reach anyone who may have survived in a pocket of space, The Associated Press reported Monday.“Every time there’s an action, there’s a reaction,” Miami-Dade assistant fire chief Raide Jadallah said during a news conference. “It’s not an issue (where) we could just attach a couple of cords to a concrete boulder and lift it and call it a day.” Some of the concrete chunks are smaller, the size of basketballs or baseballs.Early Monday, a crane lifted a large slab of concrete from the debris pile, enabling about 30 rescuers in hard hats to move in and carry smaller pieces of debris into red buckets, which were emptied into a larger bin for a crane to remove. The work was complicated by intermittent rain showers, but the fires that hampered the initial search have been extinguished.Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer and state fire marshal, said it was the largest deployment of such resources in Florida history that was not due to a hurricane. “They’re working around the clock,” Patronis said. "They’re working 12 hours at a time, midnight to noon to midnight.”Others who have seen the wreckage up close were daunted by the task ahead. Alfredo Lopez, who lived with his wife in a sixth-floor corner apartment and narrowly escaped, said he finds it hard to believe anyone is alive in the rubble.“If you saw what I saw: nothingness. And then, you go over there and you se

Former Burlington building owner helped develop Florida condo that collapsed

As rescuers continued to search for survivors of a Florida condo collapse, a new Canadian connection emerged: a man who once owned apartment buildings in Burlington, Ont., and was charged with evading taxes in the 1970s had a hand in the condo’s development, according to U.S. media reports.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that Nathan Reiber, a former lawyer from Toronto who died in 2014, was involved in a real estate partnership that developed the 12-storey Champlain Towers, the 40-year-old building where 11 people have been confirmed killed and more than 150 others are still missing — four of them Canadians from three different families, according to Global Affairs Canada.

As the search for survivors continued Monday in the community of Surfside, north of Miami Beach, U.S. media focused on how an engineer warned in 2018 that he’d discovered structural problems with the building. Scrutiny of Champlain Towers’ history is growing, including its origins, going back to Reiber.

In 1996, the Hamilton Spectator reported Reiber, then 69, had gone to Miami more than 15 years earlier to avoid Revenue Canada. He and two business partners had been charged in the early 1980s with tax evasion and bookkeeping aimed at hiding income.

The trio owned apartment buildings in Burlington, where, according to reports, they’d “skimmed” roughly $131,000 from self-operated coin laundries, late Spectator reporter Paul Legall wrote.

In July 1996, Reiber was fined $60,000 after pleading guilty to tax evasion in a Toronto court. He was given one year to pay the fine. Reiber was also convicted of evading $59,500 in federal taxes by failing to declare $102,297 in income from 1971 to 1976, Legall reported.

The court also heard he and his partners had cheated the tax department by issuing $120,000 in cheques to an unidentified person for construction work that never happened. The funds were placed in the partners’ personal accounts.

A warrant was issued for Reiber’s arrest in the early 1980s after he went to Florida. He came back to Canada voluntarily.

After he settled in Florida, Reiber’s retirement was short-lived, according to his obituary in the Miami Herald. He began building real estate there, including Champlain Towers, completed in 1986. An obituary in the Globe and Mail said he died in Miami in 2014, at age 86, after a battle with cancer.

Now, as much of the building sits in ruins, a former condo board member, Max Friedman, told the Post that the 2018 engineer’s warnings resulted in a $15-million (U.S.) construction project to make repairs. “It was an expensive project.”

The building collapsed just days before a deadline for condo owners to start making steep payments towards repairs that had been recommended nearly three years earlier, in a report that warned of “major structural damage.”

A U.S. federal team of scientists and engineers is conducting a preliminary investigation at the site and will determine whether to launch a full probe of what caused the building to come down.

Despite the engineer sounding the alarm, a town building official told condo board members their building was in “very good shape” almost three years before it collapsed, according to minutes of that meeting released Monday.

Investigators planned to review the engineer’s reports in their probe of how the building collapsed, the Post story said. Authorities said their efforts were still a search-and-rescue operation, but no one has been found alive since hours after the collapse on Thursday.

The pancake collapse of the building has left layer upon layer of intertwined debris, frustrating efforts to reach anyone who may have survived in a pocket of space, The Associated Press reported Monday.

“Every time there’s an action, there’s a reaction,” Miami-Dade assistant fire chief Raide Jadallah said during a news conference. “It’s not an issue (where) we could just attach a couple of cords to a concrete boulder and lift it and call it a day.” Some of the concrete chunks are smaller, the size of basketballs or baseballs.

Early Monday, a crane lifted a large slab of concrete from the debris pile, enabling about 30 rescuers in hard hats to move in and carry smaller pieces of debris into red buckets, which were emptied into a larger bin for a crane to remove. The work was complicated by intermittent rain showers, but the fires that hampered the initial search have been extinguished.

Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer and state fire marshal, said it was the largest deployment of such resources in Florida history that was not due to a hurricane.

“They’re working around the clock,” Patronis said. "They’re working 12 hours at a time, midnight to noon to midnight.”

Others who have seen the wreckage up close were daunted by the task ahead. Alfredo Lopez, who lived with his wife in a sixth-floor corner apartment and narrowly escaped, said he finds it hard to believe anyone is alive in the rubble.

“If you saw what I saw: nothingness. And then, you go over there and you see, like, all the rubble. How can somebody survive that?” Lopez told The Associated Press.

Authorities on Monday insisted they are not losing hope.

Deciding to transition from search-and-rescue work to a recovery operation is agonizing, said Dr. Joseph A. Barbera, a professor at George Washington University. That decision is fraught with considerations, he said, that only those on the ground can make.

Barbera co-authored a study examining disasters where some people survived under rubble for prolonged periods of time. He has also advised teams on where to look for potential survivors and when to conclude “that the probability of continued survival is very, very small.”

“It’s an incredibly difficult decision, and I’ve never had to make that decision,” Barbera said.

As time goes on, he said, teams will begin a process called “rapid delayering, where you take more risk by moving larger amounts of rubble, because you recognize you’re running up against the time factor for survival.”

How long a person can survive depends on a host of issues, including the availability of water, the severity of any injuries and the degree to which they are trapped, Barbera said.

“The human dimension is huge — the uncertainty that you could be leaving someone alive behind by ending too early,” Barbera said.

The ultimate decision to move into the recovery phase, he said, will have to be made “with the involvement of the political authority because they’re the ultimate authority over this.”

A federal team of scientists and engineers are conducting a preliminary investigation at the site and will determine whether to launch a full probe of what caused the building to come down.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology also investigated disasters such as the collapse of the twin towers on 9/11, Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico in 2017 and a 2003 Rhode Island nightclub fire that killed 100 people. Previous investigations have taken years to complete.

With files from The Hamilton Spectator and Star wire services