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Douglas Quan, Postmedia News
| Apr 11, 2014 | Last Updated: Apr 12, 2014 - 7:41 UTC
Canadian armoured-truck builder William Whyte once touted his 8,000-kilogram tactical vehicles as among the “most protected,” ready to charge into the world’s danger zones. And in 2006, he and his company, Armet Armoured Vehicles, scored a multimillion-dollar deal to build nearly three dozen of them for the U.S. military in Iraq.
But the former cop is now weeks away from possible extradition to the U.S., accused of failing to deliver on that deal. Not only were not all the vehicles sent, but the ones that were did not have the required bullet and blast protection, say federal prosecutors in Virginia, where Armet based part of its operations.
Court documents filed in Toronto in support of Whyte’s extradition and obtained by Postmedia News paint a picture of a company that was teetering financially and of an owner who cut corners on safety, redirected vehicles to Nigeria for more money and diverted company funds for personal use — causing friction with staff.
In fact it was the company’s one-time president, Frank Skinner, who blew the whistle on Whyte by notifying the FBI, records in Virginia federal court reveal.
Skinner, an ex-Marine who once provided protection to the Saudi royal family, is now working with the U.S. government on a parallel civil action to recover money from the company for the allegedly “substandard” vehicles.
“He was very disturbed by what he saw go on,” Skinner’s lawyer, Paul Lawrence, said in an interview. “He had friends serving in Iraq who could’ve been endangered by these faulty vehicles and armour. He felt some moral outrage about what took place.”
None of the allegations against Whyte have been proven in court.
Court records suggest that attempts to serve Whyte with the lawsuit have been tough. During one attempt in January at Whyte’s 37-acre ranch in King City, Ont., north of Toronto, a process server claimed he saw a woman inside the home but knocks went unanswered. As he returned to his car, several dogs appeared. A young man emerged and warned that the dogs were “not friendly,” the records say.
“I’m of the opinion that William R. Whyte … is avoiding/evading service,” the process server wrote in an affidavit. He suggested that future attempts could be “potentially hazardous.”
Whyte “denies any allegation of misconduct” and will vigorously defend the criminal charges against him, as well as any civil claim, his Toronto lawyer, Brian Greenspan, said in an email. He declined to respond to specific allegations.
Greenspan added that Whyte has lived in the same home for years and “to the best of his knowledge no one has either attended to serve him with any claim nor has he ‘evaded’ service.”
Aside from a steep driveway, an unusually severe winter and a sign indicating the presence of guard dogs, there is “no basis” to suggest that attempts to serve Whyte have been hazardous, Greenspan said.
Postmedia News was unable to reach the 69-year-old by phone or email. A man who identified himself as Whyte’s brother during one call said he thought the case had been dropped.
In an email to Postmedia in 2012, Whyte, who was a York Regional Police officer in 1979 and 1980, said he was “shocked at the allegations against me which I totally deny.”
Armet had contracts with the Canadian Forces in 2005 and 2006 valued at $86,660 and $33,000 to supply bullet-resistant glass for military vehicles in Afghanistan. Testing of the glass was successful and there were no issues, officials said.
It was also in 2006 that U.S. military officials in charge of Iraq reconstruction efforts awarded Armet contracts worth about $6.4 million to build 32 trucks to transport Iraqi “VIPs” through “hostile and dangerous” territory. The contracts required that the trucks meet minimum bullet- and blast-protection standards and have tires that could continue to run after being punctured.
But a grand jury indictment in July 2012 said the company delivered only seven trucks — all past deadline — and none met all the safety requirements. The military didn’t accept or pay for the seventh vehicle. Whyte and his company were charged with three counts of major fraud, seven counts of wire fraud and three counts of false, fictitious and fraudulent claims.
Last summer, Canada’s justice minister approved extradition proceedings, which led to Whyte’s arrest in September. Records show Whyte posted $1-million bail and turned over his Canadian and British passports. An extradition hearing is set for May 22.
The documents filed in Toronto in support of extradition suggest that Whyte’s former staff were troubled with how the vehicles were being built.
Rick John, who was CEO for a time, told Whyte he had “significant concerns” about inadequate blast protection of the gun turret systems, according to the documents.
Andre Potempski, a production manager, talked to Whyte about the lack of armour in the trucks’ floors near the gear shifter “to which Whyte responded there was nothing he could do,” the documents said. When money got tight, Potempski told authorities, Whyte told staff to insert Styrofoam between walls of vehicles instead of more expensive blast-protection materials and at least one vehicle was built this way, the documents said.
Usman Bashir, a production manager, said Whyte told him that two sheets of steel on the roof were not required because no one would fire at the roof from a 90-degree angle, according to the documents.
Court documents suggest Whyte cared more about filling orders from Nigeria than the U.S. military because the Nigerian government paid more. Cynthia Braden, Armet’s former managing director, argued with Whyte over this, but Whyte made Nigeria a priority because the country paid 50 per cent of the contract price in advance, the documents said.
Braden was expected to testify that even though the company’s finances were in “disarray,” some of the money from the military went to pay a mortgage and a lease on a Dodge truck for Whyte’s son, the documents said.
Skinner reported that Whyte sent his wife and daughter to Beverly Hills to shop for high school graduation, according to the court records.
Land title documents show that the family bought a 3,800-square-foot home in King City in April 2012 for $2.6 million. That same year, Armet was nominated for a small-business excellence award by the Bradford, Ont., board of trade.
A year later, the company appeared in a report to the U.S. Congress listing defence contractors that had been “suspended and debarred.”