Mazza denies he used Ornge for personal gain
July 18, 2012, Toronto - Ornge was never about personal gain, but building a great air ambulance service that would help patients and the people of Ontario, the man at the centre of the scandal said Wednesday.
An emotional ex-CEO Chris Mazza told a legislative committee that his son's death spurred him to create Ornge, which is under a criminal probe for financial irregularities.
Accompanied by his lawyer, Mazza said his actions were always taken in the public interest. He said he also feels badly for those who were affected by the controversy, especially those who lost their jobs.
But he defended his generous $1.4 million compensation package, saying it wasn't uncommon for a top executive.
Many of the actions he took as Ornge's CEO were taken with the full knowledge of the Ontario government, which gave Ornge hundreds of millions of dollars, he testified.
His lawyer interjected several times during Mazza's appearance to object to the pointed questions his client was asked, saying they were unfair and incorrect.
Mazza avoided journalists and television cameras as he entered the legislature, turning his back to them as he entered an elevator. Asked whether one of the men who accompanied pushing journalists out the way was hired security, Mazza responded: "He's my best friend.''
He appeared to be on the verge of tears at times during his testimony, particularly when he was asked by Progressive Conservative Frank Klees about patients who died after Ornge was called to transport them.
He insisted everyone at Ornge wanted to help those patients and every death was of great concern to him.
It's been a long wait to hear Mazza tell his side of the story amid allegations that public money may have been used for personal gain.
Two Speakers' warrants were issued to compel him to testify, but his appearance was put off because two psychiatrists declared him medically unfit to testify.
Mazza took medical leave last December when stories about questionable business deals made headlines.
He denied using his serious emotional problems to avoid testifying before the committee, which tried to get him for weeks.
Many of the witnesses have pointed the finger at Mazza for the controversy that's created a major embarrassment for the governing Liberals.
Auditor general Jim McCarter has criticized the government for failing to oversee Ornge, despite giving it $730 million over five years and allowing it to borrow another $300 million.
The committee has heard numerous stories about people who died while waiting for an air ambulance, about understaffing by Ornge, and about helicopters that were so badly designed paramedics often could not perform CPR on patients.
Former Ornge employees have described Mazza as "impressive,'' "brilliant'' and a "visionary,'' but also a tyrant whose volatile temper exploded when they didn't do what he wanted.
The committee has also heard about Mazza's $1.4-million annual compensation package that was hidden from public view, the personal loans he received from Ornge and his involvement in getting his girlfriend — Kelly Long, a former water-ski instructor — a job at Ornge.
Long wanted to sit alongside Mazza and his lawyer at the committee table, but the request was denied. The room was packed and included members of Mazza's family.
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