Closeup / International Affairs

The wronged man

The press savaged Sam Fuda. Now it’s his turn

Barbara Amiel October 3 1977
Closeup / International Affairs

The wronged man

The press savaged Sam Fuda. Now it’s his turn

Barbara Amiel October 3 1977

The wronged man

Closeup / International Affairs

The press savaged Sam Fuda. Now it’s his turn

Barbara Amiel

Toronto resident Salvatore “Sam” Fuda is 42 years old with a receding hairline, three children (the eldest in Toronto’s establishment Upper Canada College) and a tendency to dress Mediterranean Immigrant Chic. In his two-piece pale green suit, with the slightly suppressed waistline and conservative blue and white striped shirt, he looks pretty much like what he is: the boy from Italy’s southern region of Calabria who came to Canada 24 years ago and made a million or so in real estate. Sam Fuda is also a worried and harassed man. This week he is launching what his lawyer Edward L. Greenspan describes as “the largest libel suit in history against the press.” The suit will name newspapers and magazines in every major city in Italy. Action is also expected against one other media mogul: the CBC national news.

Fuda’s story has implications beyond the personal battle to clear his name of allegations of improper business dealings and Mafia connections. A campaign, begun by the left-wing Italian press initially against Sam Fuda, has escalated into a full-blown campaign against Canada. At stake are millions of dollars in contracts for Canadian raw materials. Italy is one of the few countries where the balance of trade works in our favor: exports to Italy in 1976 totaled $548 million against imports of $365 million. If Italy’s militant press have their way, that trend could be reversed.

Fuda’s Italian dealings began shortly after a 1976 earthquake that shattered the Friuli region of Northern Italy. More than 1,500 people were killed; close to 40,000 were left homeless. International aid poured in.

But the minority Christian Democratic government of Giulio Andreotti was still living down scandals surrounding the misuse of funds from an earthquake 10 years ago in Belice. Millions of dollars in international aid remains unaccounted for. (Current gallows humor in Italy has politicians subsisting on villas and Ferraris from the proceeds of one earthquake to the next. “What,” asks one civil servant, “will we do if the Communists get in and outlaw acts of God?”) Handling the aftermath of the Friuli earthquake became a matter of pride and survival for the shaky Christian Democrat government. The appointment of the respected Guiseppe Zamberletti (a deputy minister rumored to be in line for head of the Security Police) to supervise the Friuli funds was intended to avoid the corruption and bribery endemic to doing business in Italy.

Since the 1977 power-sharing agree-

ment with the Italian Communist Party (which had picked up approximately 33% of the popular vote) the Christian Democrat rule was, at best, tenuous. A scandal of major proportions could push it over the edge. Now, as the Sam Fuda affair gathers momentum, it may be that this scandal will be L ’Affare Canadesi.

The affair began when the Italian government advertised for tenders to construct temporary housing in Friuli. Fuda responded. He had made his money in Canada by buying and renovating old properties in Toronto's College-Dufferin area. His best times came in the early Seventies when land prices were tripling. By 1976 he was in a sufficiently strong position to be bonded for bank loans of close to two million dollars by such reputable firms as Huron and Erie in London, Ontario. Though he had achieved success as a property developer, he wanted to break into the international field as a promoter and if he was short on experience, he was long on chutzpah. He tried to sell a TV station to the Congo but abandoned the plan to an associate when it became “too big for me to handle.” He tried to finance a $ 100-million highway project in Italy but was unable to raise the money.

The Friuli project was a new chance. He proposed the purchase of prefabricated units from the Calgary-based company

ATCO. Though the Italian government had specified that preference was to be given to Italian and European firms, ATCO was selected to supply 1,000 of the 20,000 prefabs required. Later on many questions would be asked about the Italian government’s sudden change of heart in bending the rules to award a contract to a Canadian firm. But whatever ATCO’S tactics in getting the contract (a judicial enquiry uncovered no evidence of bribes or kickbacks) ample reason could be found in ATCO’S record of fast and high quality construction (see box). With winter coming on. it took ATCO only 25 days from the October 25, 1976. signing of the contract to completion.

The summer of 1977 passed with only the occasional tremor in Friuli. But in Rome, the political situation went into convulsions. A highly politicized press sensed the Christian Democrats were vulnerable after the escape of a noted Nazi war criminal and attention turned to Friuli where cases of corruption had sparked a judicial investigation. Then on September 3 the left-wing press in Milan splashed the first story on Sam Fuda. For the next two weeks, Fuda and ATCO would dominate the Italian press.

On Labor Day, September 5, 1977, Sam Fuda’s phone rang early in his Forest Hill, Toronto, home. It was his sister calling from Marina Ionica in Calabria. She was in tears. Her house was under siege by friends and strangers asking about these newspaper stories of her brother. Fuda listened incredulously. Later the same day he was in the office of his lawyer Greenspan. An initial press release was issued. By the

end of the week the stories had not died down but gathered momentum.

Though details varied from paper to paper. the story was essentially the same: Salvatore “Sam” Fuda was an Italo-Canadian member of the Mafia with a criminal record and was well known to both the police and the Canadian Embassy—as well as the Andreotti government. To allow him to be involved in the Friuli project was ipso facto evidence of malfeasance by Italian authorities. The September 4 edition of Dairinterno described Fuda as “the distinguished gentleman with the big cigar” traveling about with “a certain Antoinetta

who travels often by air within Italy.” Other papers headlined such stories as “A Mysterious Emigrant from Calabria Proposes the Houses From Canada” and included more details of his pleasure trips with a woman by the name of Antoinetta. Said Rome’s Paese Sera: “Mr. Fuda with the showy shirts and chalky suits and always with a bottle of grappa near him. so much so that he was baptized ‘Bicchierino’ (little glass).” Finally an Italian newspaper published the statement that a telex message, number 50780, had been sent by the Italian Ambassador in Canada to Italy warning of Fuda’s unsavory character.

As the stories multiplied they were picked up by daily and financial papers in Paris, London, New York and as far away

as Australia. In addition to the personal attack on Fuda, charges were made against ATCO alleging shoddy workmanship, leaking roofs and overpriced homes that reflected a bribe in their high cost. ATCO officials were outraged. They claimed that any leakage was the result of faulty erection by Italian army personnel, although the 1977 ATCO annual report claimed 16 Italian army members had been trained in Montreal by the company and an ATCO team was sent to Friuli to supervise construction. Later on ATCO explained this contradiction by saying the on-site supervision consisted only of a dozen ATCO factory workers sent over to Friuli because the-y happened to speak Italian. Still, no official complaints about the quality of housing have been made by the Italian government to ATCO, and Domenico Spaziente, prefect of Udine, Friuli’s capital city, attributed any problems with the ATCO homes to hasty assembly by non-experts working in adverse weather.

The allegations against Fuda were countered by his lawyer Greenspan. The Metropolitan Toronto police confirmed that Fuda had no criminal record. The Italian Embassy said that no telex or information of any sort about Fuda had been sent to Italy. Further investigation revealed that, according to one senior police official. there was a Salvatore Fuda connected with a Canadian Mafia family, but it was not Greenspan’s client Sam Fuda. As for the mysterious woman, Antoinetta—that was easily solved. In 1958, Sam Fuda was married to Antoinetta Accettola. She was 17 at the time. Now, three children later, she is still beautiful enough to catch the eye of journalists. As for the constant drinking, Fuda has been a diabetic for the past eight years and claims he is unable to touch alcohol. He is also a nonsmoker.

As the Italian press became more hysterical, the tone of the stories became more dearly anti-Canadian, ATCO’S name was minimized and the headlines referred only to “the little Canadian houses.” There was a deliberate jibe here: a popular Italian song called La Casetta dal Canada is all about the immigrant’s dream of a little house in Canada surrounded by fishes and flowers. The threat to future Canadian trade was epitomized by the violence of a piece in the paper Paese Sera, which made a scandal out of a perfectly ordinary trade visit to British Columbia by a group of Italian officials. The trip was paid for by the British Columbia-based Council of Forest Products Industries which had calculated that it would be cheaper to pay the fares of a few Italian officials to BC than to ship BC’S forests and houses for display in Italy. Said Paese Sera ominously: “The people involved defend themselves, but the fact has been confirmed: the trip to Canada was made, and it was paid for by the Council of Forest Industries.” The paper went on to explain how, after news of this got out, those involved were careful to show on a map of Canada how far away British Co-

lumbia was from the Montreal factories of ATCO. Paese Sera was not reassured: “The real reason for this trip is to put forward the proposal of a mass exportation of Canadian wooden houses to Italy.”

What was behind the virulence of the Italian press campaign? Explained Dan Iannuzzi, former editor and publisher of Corriere Canadese (the largest Italian newspaper in Canada): “The Italian press was one of the best in the world. But it has become politicized. Today news is a tissue of fact and fiction. It’s a tragedy. The leftwing press want to cut off trade with the West and encourage trade with Eastern Europe. As for the nonsense about Sam Fuda—it’s lies.”

In an editorial entitled “The Wanted Scandal” Corriere Canadese assistant managing editor Sergio Tagliavini enlarged on the theme: “All business deals with the Eastern bloc pass through agencies which are predisposed toward Berlinguer and friends. Bountiful commissions are used to maintain the party apparatus .. .”

Still, it took the CBC to bring the worst aspects of Italian scandalmongering to Canada. On Friday September 9, Fuda walked out of his home to find himself confronted by a CBC television news team headed by Jock Ferguson. The reporter and camera crew followed Fuda to his offices on Toronto’s Keele Street, where Ferguson recorded the introduction to his report that ran both on the six o’clock and 11 p.m. CBC national news. Broadcaster George Maclean introduced the story of the “multimillion dollar scandal.” Reported Ferguson: “Italian police now allege that Toronto businessman Sam Fuda and a Calgary company called ATCO are involved in the scandal . . . The key to the scandal that’s been brewing in the Italian papers for more than a week now is Sam Fuda . . . His companies have unlisted phone numbers and a cloak of secrecy surrounds his operations ... As the contract was about to be signed, the Italian government negotiators suddenly decided to reduce Fuda’s part in the project. It’s still unclear why. But there are suggestions that Fuda has underworld connections in loansharking, but he vigorously denies this . . . An ATCO company official said today that they now wish they’d never got involved with Fuda—or the Italian earthquake deal.”

It was an extraordinary report. Fuda’s main company, Greengage Developments Ltd., through which the ATCO deal was negotiated, was listed on a 14-foot illuminated sign behind Ferguson and the phone number could be found on page 713 of the Toronto Telephone Directory. In a telephone conversation with Maclean ’s Ferguson explained that the Italian police had simply said “they were routinely looking into everyone connected with the Friuli deal.” Ferguson claimed the loan-sharking allegations came from “some Italian newspapers” but pointed out that he himself

thought all the Italian papers were largely fiction except perhaps La República and he didn't know which papers had the allegations. He pointed out that he had ended up

his report by confirming that the Italian police had said they could find no evidence of kickbacks between ATCO, Fuda and the Italian authorities, which was in direct contradiction to his opening statement to viewers.

Said Jay Scott, president of the international division of ATCO: “Fuda performed very well under extremely difficult time constraints. We have no criticisms.” As for Fuda’s “reduced role” in the contract, that was no mystery. After his initial presentation to the Italian government, the authorities had simply decided to bypass him and contract directly with ATCO themselves. This is fairly standard in government dealings: they don’t see the point of a middle-man. When ATCO accepted the eight-million-dollar contract, it issued a $l.8-million subcontract to Sam Fuda to provide electrical and plumbing equipment for the kitchens and bathrooms of the prefabs. Some Italian newspapers are now publishing retractions of the allegations against Fuda and ATCO. But if you sling enough mud, some of it sticks. Whatever may be revealed about the dealings in Friuli, to date nothing could justify the mud thrown at Canada, ATCO and Sam Fuda. The incident is a good example of how the press, an institution that often congratulates itself on being the conscience of a nation, can, when politicized (or merely careless), damage the reputation of individuals or entire countries.