By Kenneth Jackson and Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The water company Bruce Carson allegedly lobbied for in hopes of landing lucrative contracts with First Nations, is now under investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police for allegedly defrauding clients, APTN National News has learned.
H20 Water Professionals (H20 Pros) closed its doors last June, leaving clients scrambling to reach them, most looking to return water filtration systems.
About a dozen complaints about the company and owner Patrick Hill have been made to the Rockland, Ont., OPP detachment, near Ottawa.
Police say the alleged victims are mainly elderly people in the area surrounding Ottawa, but some reports originate from as far away as New Brunswick.
APTN National News has been able to confirm a police working theory is that it appears the company was trying to sell as many water systems as they could in the days leading up its closure, all the while knowing they wouldn’t be able to back up the 25-year warranty fixed into the sale price of the approximately $4,000 per water filtration system.
The systems are a point of use device purchased by the company for about $700.
Upon purchase, clients report they were given a 10-day money back guarantee but when they attempted to use that guarantee they found the company telephone number out of service and a sign on the office door saying it had closed.
The OPP wouldn’t comment on the record about the investigation but APTN National News has been told it’s on-going.
APTN National News has learned the provincial Ministry of Consumer Services is also investigating.
H20 Pros is also on the ministry’s “consumer beware list” for failing to respond after complaints were received by the ministry.
That brings the number of investigations to five currently looking into Bruce Carson, Hill and H20 Pros. The investigations by the OPP and the Ontario government ministry are not directed at Carson.
Carson, a former adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office, is under investigation for alleged illegal lobbying and influence peddling by three different federal agencies: the RCMP, the Lobbying Commissioner and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
None of the federal investigations have yet to reach their conclusions after more than a year.
The Prime Minister’s Office requested the three federal probes on March 16, 2011, following a meeting between the PMO’s director of communications and APTN National News reporters investigating links between Carson and the Ottawa-based water company seeking to sell filtration systems to First Nations reserves hard hit by unsafe drinking water.
Carson was disbarred and jailed for 18 months in the 1980s for defrauding clients. He was convicted again of three counts of fraud in the 1990s. He also declared bankruptcy in 1993.
H20 Pros had signed a financial arrangement guaranteeing a cut of the profits to Carson’s fiancée, a former Ottawa escort, from the sales of filtration systems to First Nations communities. Emails obtained by APTN National News show Carson attempted to use his federal government connections to land meetings with federal Aboriginal Affairs officials to promote the company’s product.
In the Ontario government investigation into H2O Pros, the Ministry of Consumer Services lists Patrick Hill and Nicolas Kaszap as co-owners of the company.
Ministry spokeswoman Sandra Bento said she couldn’t comment about the specifics of the investigation but said it’s on-going and the owners could be fined up to $50,000 and/or be sent to jail for as much as two years less a day under the Consumer Protection Act for failure to refund and engaging in unfair practice, if the probe proves that is what happened.
The company itself could be fined a maximum of $250,000 if found guilty.
Documents obtained at the Elgin St. courthouse in Ottawa show Kaszap left H20 Pros in October 2010 after signing over his shares in the company to Hill.
Court documents also show that Kaszap is being sued in small claims court for nearly $19,000 in unpaid rent by Elk Property Management.
H20 Pros leased office space from that property management company at 5370 Canotek Rd. in Ottawa in 2009.
However, Kaszap told APTN National News he’s not responsible for the rent because he left the company long before.
The property manager claims Kaszap’s name is the only one on the lease so he is responsible for unpaid rent in 2011, including January when a rent cheque bounced.
That was when Carson was still promoting the company. But it’s entirely possible that Carson did not know about the alleged actions of the company that are being investigated. APTN National News attempted, without success, to contact Carson for comment through his lawyer.
Kaszap said he didn’t want to comment on the lawsuit over the rent but when asked why he left H20 Pros, he said he grew tired of how the business was run once he became a father.
“I didn’t agree with the direction he (Hill) was steering the company in and being a new father my priorities were refocused,” said Kaszap, who owned a 49 per cent share in H20 Pros before signing them over to Hill.
APTN National News has learned the OPP have received a statement from Christine McPherson, a former paid consultant to H20 Global Group, a company Hill launched in October 2010 to make obtaining government water contracts with First Nations easier.
McPherson, who now lives and works in the Middle Eastern country of Qatar, is also the mother of Michele McPherson, the former escort Carson asked to marry. Christine McPherson also sent a similar statement to the Ontario government.
In her statements, she claimed that from the beginning of her time with the company in January 2011, there were constant customer complaints about lack of service or wanting their money back.
She said the complaints increased “substantially” in February all while their parent company H20 Global Group worked to obtain water contracts on First Nations.
The complaints continued to escalate until June of that year when Hill shut the company down, McPherson said.
Christine McPherson claimed in her statements that money was being mishandled in the company and Hill refused to discuss customer complaints.
The OPP has spoken with Hill and Kaszap. They say Kaszap is not a suspect in their investigation. The probe focuses on Hill and H20 Pros.
OPP sources stressed their investigation is separate from the RCMP investigation.
“At the end of the day I don’t know what I can give them or tell them about what’s been done wrong,” said Hill when recently contacted by APTN National News. “At the end of the day, when the media hit and this stuff hit, every customer under the sun was like ‘you know, there is a problem here, there is a problem there,’ but there was no more money. It’s done. It’s over.”
Hill said APTN’s investigation killed his business despite his trying to keep it going for several months afterwards.
“Yeah, of course, there was no more money left and there were no more things to do and it was destroyed,” said Hill.
Hill said he knows what the OPP is looking into him but says he hasn’t done anything wrong.
“I have nothing to hide … If I have done anything wrong, by all means I will tell you,” he said.
But the inquiries into H20 Pros don’t end there.
The Ottawa Better Business Bureau has concerns with the company too.
President Diane Iadeluca said they have 11 complaints on record from customers of H20 Pros who complain about shady sales techniques and express frustration that the company has closed.
“They have some unsavory sales approaches. They target people that are vulnerable, mostly seniors and they go door-to-door to sell their systems,” said Iadeluca. “The systems are quite expensive. Supposedly, they include maintenance and filters and everything you need to support through years. They give a 25-year warranty but obviously they disappeared so now the customers have a system they can’t maintain and can’t find filters for.”
She said 11 complaints may not seem like a lot but when they have a common thread it raises red flags. They have tried and failed to contact Hill.
She said some of the complaints include salesmen misrepresenting themselves as contractors hired by certain towns they were trying to sell systems in.
The salesmen would tell homeowners they were there to test the water for the town and then once inside try to convince the owner to purchase one of their systems.
Court documents show a lawsuit has been filed against H2O Pros. One of the complainants, Daniel Masse, told APTN National News says he is still hoping to get his money back and he is anxiously awaiting the results of the investigations into the company.