Before Florida’s deadly condo collapse, one of the Canadians behind the development was charged with fraud

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Almost 100 people died when the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla., collapsed this summer. By then, its Canadian developers were long dead – but hundreds of records tell the story of dubious tactics used to create a property empire from Toronto to Florida.

After years of construction, delays and squabbles with local government, the developers of the Champlain Towers gathered at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the project’s completion.

A previous mayor of Surfside, Fla., Mitchell Kinzer, still remembers the day well, even 40 years later. The town commissioner, some of the engineers and architects, and a smattering of locals showed up for the dedication. Afterward, a group – including him – was invited up to a penthouse suite owned by one of the developers.

“It was first class luxury. It had these big windows … You could see every marking on the floor of the ocean,” he said. “I literally went home, put on a bathing suit and went swimming. That’s how impressive it was.”

On June 24th, 2021, Mr. Kinzer woke up to the sound of helicopters overhead. When he went outside to investigate, neighbours told him about the partial collapse of Champlain Towers South. Kinzer said it was on his mind all day and later walked three blocks to see for himself.

“The sight of that building, with part of it just literally sheared away, and the giant pile of rubble … It was hard to process that what I was seeing was real,” he said.

Just under 6,000 people live in Surfside. Mr. Kinzer figures there’s not a person who doesn’t have some connection, either directly or through a friend, to one of the 98 people who died.

A federal investigation by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is under way. The original design, construction process, building maintenance, as well as potential environmental and geotechnical issues, are all factorsthe institute will examine.

Unfortunately, this investigation will take a lengthy amount of time and answers are still likely months or even years away.

A myriad of irregularities about the building have come to light since the tragedy.

The Global and Mail reported that “first, a 2018 consultant’s report surfaced that suggested parts of the high-rise had fallen into disrepair. The document flagged “abundant cracking” in some parking garage columns, beams and walls as well as “major structural damage” to the concrete slab below the entrance drive and pool deck. The report said the original design of theslab was a “major error,” as it was not sloped to allow water runoff.”

Other sources such as expert analysis, and reporting by some U.S. media, has flagged other possible shortcomings with the design and construction of the tower.

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