Local April 11, 2016 | 4:00 pm

Billionaire Michael DeGroote’s casino dream turns into organized crime nightmare: CBC

Santo Domingo.- Antonio Carbone, the Canadian casino mogulembroiled in a lawsuit with noted philanthropist Michael DeGroote, is currentlybeing held in a Dominican Republic prison on a charge of attempted murder.

However, a fifth estate investigation has found that thecase against him is largely based on information that a key witness and thealleged victim himself now contradict.

Carbone, 40, is accused of attempted murder in thefirebombing of a rival’s 1999 Jaguar Vanden Plas in the early hours of Dec. 1,and is being held in preventive custody in the San Pedro prison, 100 kilometreswest of Punta Cana.

The fifth estate has learned that key details of the SantoDomingo district attorney’s case against Carbone appear to be based on somefactual errors, and are contradicted by other evidence and what a key witnessis now saying, all of which raise questions about the strength of the caseagainst the Toronto-area businessman.

Carbone, a controversial figure, has been interviewed inrecent months by CBC and the Globe and Mail as part of a year-longinvestigation into the debacle surrounding the Dream Casino group in theCaribbean, a business venture that resulted in a series of multi-million dollarsuits and countersuits among those involved.

A fifth estate documentary, The mob and Michael DeGroote,which aired Jan. 23, examined how DeGroote, a highly regarded Canadianbillionaire and philanthropist, lent Carbone, his brother Francesco and a thirdparticipant, nearly US$112 million for their venture; and how organized crimefigures became embroiled in the dispute, leading to threats of revenge andmurder by some of those involved.

Carbone was on his way back to Toronto to celebrate his40th birthday when he was arrested by Dominican National Police on Jan. 25 atthe Punta Cana airport.

In a prison interview, Carbone told the fifth estate he wasinnocent of the allegations, and that he is the victim of a campaign todiscredit him.

His brother, Francesco Carbone, who was also named in thearrest warrants, also denies any involvement. He was already back in Canadawhen his brother was taken into custody.

A judge approved district attorney Yeni Berenice Reynoso’sdetention request for Carbone, based largely on a 10-page record of the casefiled in a Santo Domingo court.

Firebombing

At issue is who was behind the 2 a.m. firebombing on Dec. 1of a 1999 Jaguar belonging to a Dream Casino manager Fernando Baez, with whomthe Carbone brothers had had a falling out.

The chief witness in the case is a private investigator,Juan Infante, who once worked for the Carbone brothers.

According to a document filed in court by the districtattorney, Infante heard the brothers plotting to murder Baez and that they hadallegedly hired two unknown assailants to do the job.

Dream casinos interior

The Canadian-owned Dream Casinos chain started up in 2011.By the next year, its sole investor was suing, alleging fraud. (CBC)

Yet Infante told the fifth estate that he never discussed amurder plot with the brothers nor did he ever hear them plotting an attack.

The court submission also alleges that Infante and othersscouted out the location for where they planned to murder Baez.

Infante, however, told the fifth estate that while he diddrive by Baez’s residence, no one discussed anything about murder.

He explained that he drove by Baez’s apartment in his roleas a private investigator seeking to repossess a Dream Casino vehicle.

The district attorney’s document also claims Infante heardthe Carbone brothers celebrating their role in the firebombing.

But Infante told the fifth estate a different story. Whilehe claims the brothers celebrated the news of the firebombing the evening afterit happened, they never admitted they were behind it.

For his part, Antonio Carbone maintains he was back inCanada on the evening of Dec. 1 — the time Infante claims to have heard him andhis brother celebrating the firebombing.

Firebombing

Fernando Baez’s 1999 Jaguar Vanden Plas was firebombed themorning of Dec. 1, 2014. The Carbone brothers are the accused of being behindthe attack.

The Carbones have provided the fifth estate with a WestJetletter that shows Antonio Carbone leaving the Dominican Republic on Nov. 28 andreturning back there from Toronto on Dec. 2, a day after Infante claims heheard the Carbone brothers celebrating.

When asked about this contradiction, Infante said he mighthave his dates wrong

"Well, that’s (for) the court to decide… We (had) theconversation. I don’t know if it was the second, or was the first or was thethird. That was after the car bombing."

Perhaps the biggest hole in the accusations of attemptedmurder comes from the alleged victim, Fernando Baez.

In a statement provided to the district attorney dated Jan.27, Baez claimed he narrowly escaped from the Jaguar before it was firebombedand that he was alive only by chance.

Yet Baez told the fifth estate a far different story aboutwhat happened the night of the firebombing.

Baez now says he was driving a different vehicle — not theJaguar — when he came home from work that day, and that he was already up inhis penthouse apartment when he heard an explosion.

District attorney Reynoso declined to comment on the fifthestate findings, except to say that her case was based on evidence collected inthe investigation.

Despite the contradictory evidence against his client,Antonio Carbone’s lawyer, Jose Garcia, said he is not optimistic that hisclient will get out of prison any time soon.

"I think he’ll never leave," he said, "thatis the plan."

He blames the situation on what he sees as a corruptiblejustice system in the Dominican Republic.

Seen as loyal

Baez was initially seen as a loyal senior manager for theCarbones when a fight for control of the company broke out in mid-2013 betweenthe brothers and their minority shareholder, company president Andrew Pajak ofToronto.

In a sworn statement filed in October 2013 in an Ontariocourt, as part of the sprawling litigation over Dream Casinos, Antonio Carbonesays Baez disclosed that he had been offered "half a million" toswitch sides and help the Carbones’ rivals.

An apparent tape of that call, obtained by CBC News,records Baez telling Antonio Carbone, "They had half a million cash for me…to be added to the team."

Baez told the fifth estate that he eventually did receive$500,000 but that it had nothing to do with changing sides; rather, he said,the money was used to pay for business expenses.

Fifth estate: Listen to the tapes

This is not the first time one of the Carbone brothers hasbeen accused of being involved in a murder plot.

Police accused Francesco Carbone of counselling the murderof his business partner, but the Crown dropped the charge with no explanation,and limited disclosure of any evidence, 3½ months later. (CBC)

In August 2013, Francesco Carbone was charged in Torontowith counselling a mob-linked gangster to murder Dream Casino presidentPajak.

An audio tape provided to the fifth estate appears to showCarbone discussing key details of the alleged plot. The charges were eventuallydropped after a key witness left the country.

Francesco Carbone is now suing Toronto police for wrongfularrest.

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