A Coquitlam mayoral candidate was accused in 2013 of taking $23,000 from a Vancouver Italian society for his own use, according to court documents.
But Massimo Mandarino told The Tri-City News last week that while he settled with the Confratellanza Italo Canadese (CIC) for $20,000, he did so “just to get it out of my hair.”
“It was going to be costly,” he said, claiming the bill for fighting the suit was expected to be as high as $38,000. “I have to look out for the best interest of myself.”
In a notice of civil claim filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, the CIC accused Mandarino, who it stated was its interim treasurer at the time, of issuing cheques to himself for reimbursements that were not authorized by the society. The organization stated in the court document that Mandarino had access to the CIC’s bank accounts and used membership dues “for his own benefit.”
The result, according to the notice of civil claim, which was confirmed to The Tri-City News by the organization’s lawyer, George Roper, was that “Mandarino converted funds of at least $23,000 belonging to [the CIC] to his own use.”
Mandarino denies the claims.
In an interview, he said he was only reimbursing himself for funds that he spent marketing the organization, mainly through its booth at the annual Italian Days festival in east Vancouver. The money, he added, was used to buy brochures, banners and a stall at the popular Commercial Drive event. Mandarino said the president of the organization told him “just do what you got to do and we will take care of it.”
He said he believes the lawsuit stemmed from disagreements with other board members who he said were resistant to some of the changes he was proposing for the society. Mandarino called the organization “an old boys club” that “didn’t see the big picture.”
“I guarantee you it was personal,” he said, later adding: “If there was something there, they would have slapped the cuffs on me and put me in jail.”
Representatives of the CIC did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
Mandarino has had other recent legal entanglements.
In 2013, the city of Coquitlam sued him in small claims court for $1,912 over an unpaid invoice for a council candidate brochure mail-out as part of the 2011 civic election.
Mandarino said he was never sent an invoice and only became aware he owed the money when he received the notice of claim. The matter has since been resolved.
“After some digging, I found out that it was some of my political foes that pushed on this,” he said, later adding: “It was completely politically motivated.” He offered no proof to back up those statements.
Kathleen Vincent, Coquitlam’s manager of communications, said it is the city’s practice to pursue any outstanding debts and that all matters related to the election must be dealt with in a non-partisan manner.
“To forgive this debt — or any other election-related debt to the city — could be perceived as the city supporting and/or contributing as a donor to an individual’s campaign,” she said in an emailed statement. “Any suggestion that the legal action was otherwise motivated is without basis.”
In 2014, Mandarino was again sued in small claims court for close to $4,000 for allegedly failing to pay Crest Impressions for some printing jobs.
He acknowledged that two of the cheques he sent the Port Coquitlam company bounced but he told the court in his response to the notice of claim that the proprietors had been told to wait a few days before cashing the cheques.
The Tri-City News reached out to the company but it did not respond by the print deadline.
The province’s Court Services Online database shows an acknowledgement of payment by Mandarino in the claims involving the city and Crest but the amounts paid were not disclosed.
Mandarino said he expected some of his legal issues would come up over the course of the election campaign but said he believes voters have an “open mind” about his candidacy and are giving him “the benefit of the doubt.”
“I am going to do what is right for the people of Coquitlam,” he said.