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Ornge’s Mazza received almost $10 million in public money

Dec. 2, 2013, Mississauga, Ont. - ORNGE founder Dr. Chris Mazza received $9.3 million in public money from the air ambulance firm during his six years there, according to new documents obtained by the Star.


December 2, 2013
By The Toronto Star

Topics

The accounting by ORNGE, prepared for a provincial audit team, reveals
Mazza was paid much more than the public previously knew and details his
entire compensation, not just payments in his last two years before
losing his job as president and CEO.

By 2007, the second
year ORNGE was in operation, Mazza was already taking in $1 million,
though that information was never disclosed publicly. Instead, the
public was told through the provincial sunshine list that Mazza received
$298,254 that year. The next year, the public lost sight of all
payments to Mazza because a series of legal moves stopped almost all
public disclosure by ORNGE.

In a written
statement, ORNGE said Sunday “it would be inappropriate to comment on
the actions of individuals who have not been affiliated with ORNGE for
nearly two years.”

ORNGE spokesman James
MacDonald said the current leadership of the air ambulance firm is
“committed to transparency, accountability and respect for public
dollars.” ORNGE receives about $150 million in taxpayer money each year.

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Mazza did not respond to a request for comment.

Throughout the ORNGE controversy, provincial bureaucrats and ministers
have said that news in 2011 of Mazza’s high salary came as a shock.

The accounting
documents detail the steady progression of Mazza’s receipt of ORNGE
dollars beginning in 2006. The amounts include his salary, a medical
“stipend,” bonuses and some loans that he never paid off.

Mazza lost his job as CEO and president in early 2012
when, following a Star investigation, the province made several
decisions that caused ORNGE’s board of directors to resign and most of
the air ambulance firm’s top executives to be shown the door. ORNGE has
gone through a top-to-bottom housecleaning since that time.

The research by ORNGE on Mazza’s income was done in early 2012 when Ministry of Finance auditors were sent in to ORNGE.

The new documents show
that in Mazza’s first full year as boss in 2006, he took in $869,354.
By the next year, 2007, he was up to just over $1 million. In 2008 he
took in a similar amount, but then in 2009 it zoomed up to $1.3 million.
In 2010, he took in $2.1 million and in his final year, 2011, $2.7
million.

In 2005, a partial
year as ORNGE had just been created, he took in $251,764. That was the
year Mazza convinced then health minister George Smitherman that Ontario
needed a brand new style of provincial air ambulance firm. Mazza was
given the top job.

The document notes the
$1.2 million in loans provided to Mazza (one was for him to rebuild a
house) and details the six interest payments he made, totalling just
$7,375.

The salaries of Mazza
and other executives became shielded from the public when a series of
for-profit companies were created by the non-profit, publicly funded
ORNGE. Mazza and others drew their salaries from those for-profit
companies, which in turn drew their funds from provincial taxpayers. An
OPP investigation is ongoing into a $4.7-million payment that one of the
Mazza companies received from an Italian firm that sold ORNGE 12
helicopters.

The new document raises an unsettling question about the validity of the
provincial Public Sector Salary Disclosure list, known as the sunshine
list, which is supposed to record salaries in excess of $100,000 for all
publicly funded officials.

Mazza dropped off that
list in 2008 as ORNGE created a for-profit shell company used to pay
its top executives. But it appears that disclosure of his full salary
was also not made previous to that shift.

According to the
sunshine list for 2006, Mazza took in $284,999. But the internal ORNGE
accounting documents reveal he took in $869,354.

According to the
sunshine list for 2007, Mazza took in $298,254. The accounting documents
state he received just over $1 million.

Health Minister Deb Matthews would not comment on the news of the $9.3 million paid to Mazza.

Speaking generally,
Matthews said, “Dr. Mazza and ORNGE’s former board evaded transparency
and abused the public trust placed in them.” She said that under new
leadership, “transparency has been cemented as a core value at ORNGE.”

ORNGE has gone to
court seeking to retrieve some of Mazza’s money, mainly related to the
loans he was issued, apparently with board approval. Mazza has
countersued, alleging he is owed an additional $1 million, made up of
unpaid bonuses and accrued interest. Mazza states in his legal pleadings
he received a “superior rating” in each of the years he worked at ORNGE
and was deserving of significant performance bonuses.

In a court response to Mazza’s claim, ORNGE “denies that Mazza is entitled to any amounts for performance awards.”

Most of the $9.3
million detailed in the accounting documents relates to compensation for
services. However, a total of $368,305 was paid to Mazza to cover what
the documents refer to briefly as “credit cards.” A previous story by the Star
detailed Mazza’s use of credit cards, including two ski trips he took,
ostensibly to attend medical conferences, but which included lavish
hotels and items including “avalanche training” for backcountry skiing
in Montana.

Mazza also received public money for a consulting gig with Mount Sinai
Hospital during his time at ORNGE. The hospital has never disclosed the
amount.


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