Billionaire philanthropist Michael DeGroote is one of Canada’s most esteemed and high-profile businessmen.
Billionaire Michael DeGroote
He’s also embroiled in a sensational controversy involving loan disputes, Caribbean casinos and shadowy mafia figures.
DeGroote, 81, is an Order of Canada recipient with university buildings named in his honour. A self-made mogul, he built one of North America’s largest waste disposal firms from the ground up.
Yet today, he’s waging a legal battle to recoup some of the more than $100 million he invested in a series of Caribbean casino ventures gone bad.
In 2011, DeGroote teamed with a pair of Ontario businessmen, Antonio and Francesco Carbone, to develop gaming enterprises in the Dominican Republic. The plan was audacious — to create a tropical Las Vegas in the sunny Caribbean, featuring a dozen casinos and hundreds of sports betting parlours.
The partnership soon turned bitter, though. After putting up financing for a group of new casino locations, the billionaire and the brothers quickly fell out. A flurry of civil suits ensued, with DeGroote claiming he was defrauded.
Here’s where the story takes a particularly bizarre turn. DeGroote was later secretly recorded by a man named Alex Visser during a hotel room meeting.
Visser had approached DeGroote promising to provide the billionaire with evidence that would help decide his court case — but only for a $500,000 fee.
On the tape, DeGroote said he could not buy evidence, but later haggled about the fee, proposing to pay $250,000 after first consulting with his lawyers. DeGroote declined to pay for evidence after meeting with his attorneys.
Visser was later spotted at the Caribbean casinos with an unusual traveling partner — the late Vito Rizzuto, Montreal’s reputed mafia boss. In another twist, Visser’s real name was revealed to be Zeljko Zderic, a man with dozens of criminal convictions for crimes such as fraud and assault.
While the lawsuits surrounding the sensational case have yet to be resolved, once thing is certain —anyone looking for a great idea for a gaming-related movie just hit the jackpot.