Liberal mpp tony ruprecht has been turning back NDP challengers in the west-end riding now known as Davenport for more than two decades. Even in 1990, when the left-wingers were snapping up seats everywhere en route to power, Ruprecht hung on. NDPers have a fatal habit of not taking Ruprecht seriously, figuring their thoughtful policies will win out over the Liberal stalwart's cheesy marches and publicity stunts. But they never do. A rare speaker in the legislature - other than when he rises to present another of his countless petitions from constituents - he's even a bit of a loner in the Grit caucus. He was, after all, the only MPP to back Dalton McGuinty's leadership bid from the start.
But Ruprecht keeps on getting elected, in part by presenting himself as the people's champion, no more so than on the issues of crime, safety and consumer rip-offs. For example, in a presentation on Rogers Cable 10 in August 2002, he devoted his air time to the daily attempts by con men to convince his vulnerable constituents to invest in various get-rich schemes.
"It is really astounding how much fraud and how many scam artists are out there trying to take your money away or sell you some product," Ruprecht told viewers. What he didn't mention was that some of the most notorious of these fraud artists appear on his list of campaign contributors. For example, George Yemec and the various companies with which he has been associated have been the most loyal of donors, contributing thousands of dollars over the last 15 years.
In an interview this week, Ruprecht says he was not aware that Yemec's World Media Brokers Inc. was fined $80,000 in 1998 for a scheme in which victims were invited to purchase a place in a pool of people who would share in the winnings of lottery tickets purchased by World Media.
In sentencing, the judge took into account the "apparently fraudulent aspects of the accused's business," the failure to "disclose the miniscule amount of the guaranteed win they offered" and that the "largest part of the purchasers' payments went simply to enrich the accused and not to pay for lottery tickets."
"That comes as news to me," Ruprecht says of the World Media Brokers conviction, even though Yemec is no stranger to Queen's Park. "I was aware that he was involved in tickets involving Irish Sweepstakes," says Ruprecht of Yemec. If he had known about the charges, he would not have accepted the money, he adds. "How could I? I'm going on television to condemn them. If I would have known, I would condemn George as well."
Another contributor, Rhino Ecosystems Inc., has been indicted by a grand jury in Florida on charges laid by the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with stock fraud. According to the SEC complaint, Rhino's principals conspired to recruit securities brokers to artificially inflate the market price of the stock and to attempt to arrange kickbacks with certain parties who turned out to be undercover FBI agents.
As with World Media Brokers, Ruprecht claims to have no knowledge of Rhino Ecosystems, which contributed $600 in 2001. Charles Cini, an officer of Rhino, contributed $500 in 2000.
However, Ruprecht is aware of the background of Peter Holub, who was jailed for two years in 2000 for what the court described as an "elaborate scam" involving a Yorkville modelling agency that bilked several hundred people of as much as $600,000. "Their illegal scheme," the court said, "seriously hurt, both financially and emotionally, many innocent people." Holub's agency, Anu Productions, contributed $1,000 in 1999.
"I think he contributed once," Ruprecht recalls, "and then we decided not to accept his donation" because of the criminal charges. Ruprecht says he did not return Holub's $1,000. As to why his campaign list would contain so many undesirables, Ruprecht explains that he is not able to keep track of the hundreds who contribute. "It doesn't look very good," Ruprecht acknowledges. "You are giving me some information that I am not aware of. Once you become aware, you obviously take some steps to rectify it."
But there is one business from which Ruprecht insists he will not accept money: the House of Lancaster. The strip club on Bloor West has been an uneasy presence in the neighbourhood, the MPP acknowledges. A rumour was circulating that he had accepted a donation from them, so he checked and found it was not so.
"You're wrong on that," he says. "I checked. I want the strip clubs closed. I made it public." However, despite Ruprecht's protestations, the club does appear as a contributor to his campaign. They gave $600 in 1997, $300 in 1998 and $1,000 in 1999.
Calls to the owners of the club were returned by their lawyer, Joseph Irving, who says they have received no complaints from Ruprecht about the operation of the club.
NDP challenger Jordan Berger says he's surprised to hear of the House of Lancaster donations. "Ruprecht has made quite a bit of his efforts to reduce the influence of the strip clubs."