Former Sandy Bay Child and Family Services head sued by Winnipeg construction company

A man who was fired from his job as the head of Sandy Bay Child and Family Services for alleged financial irregularities is now being sued by the construction company he hired to build the welfare agency’s head office.

The suit filed by Winnipeg-based Contera Construction alleges a $1.2-million payment discrepancy.

The company is suing Richard De La Ronde, the former executive director of Sandy Bay CFS, and his company Radka.

Contera alleges it wasn’t paid everything it was owed before De La Ronde was fired and the child welfare agency ended the lease agreement.

In 2018, Contera Construction had entered into a contract with De La Ronde, through his company Radka, for $2.7 million to build the new CFS head office, according to a statement of claim filed with Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench on May 3.

The cost went up in November of that year when change orders were made.

In making the agreement, the construction company relied on De La Ronde’s assertion that he maintained a legal interest in the land where the office would be built, the claim alleges.

It says De La Ronde represented the land to Contera as being under his “exclusive control and authority” within Sandy Bay First Nation — about 130 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, on the western shore of Lake Manitoba — by virtue of a 20-year land lease.

In June 2021, De La Ronde was no longer executive director of Sandy Bay CFS and wrongfully terminated the contract with Contera, with an unpaid amount of about $1.2 million, the claim alleges.

It says De La Ronde made an agreement to transfer ownership of the office building and the land leases to Contera to pay the amount owing under the construction contract. 

A 2018 photo shows the groundbreaking of the new Sandy Bay Child and Family Services head office. That building was never finished, and the construction company is suing the former executive director of the CFS agency and the First Nation where the partially-complete building is located. (Southern Chiefs’ Organization/Facebook)

“Contera discovered that Radka and/or De La Ronde did not have the legal authority to transfer the land leases with Sandy Bay First Nation and therefore was unable to transfer the property to Contera as agreed and in breach of the purchase agreement,” the claim says.

“De La Ronde misrepresented the nature of his interest in the lands on which the head office was situated, which caused loss and damage to Contera.”

De La Ronde paid about 57 per cent of the cost of the building through Radka, but payments stopped abruptly before construction was completed.

The lawyer representing Contera says the company “seeks to recover amounts rightfully owed to it under the provisions of the design-build contract,” and that the company has no further comment.

In September 2021, CBC News reported that according to the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, De La Ronde was fired from his longtime job over financial irregularities.

At the time, forensic auditors were looking into Radka, which had been receiving prepaid rent from the Children’s Special Allowance fund to build the CFS head office. 

Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation Chief Trevor Prince said in a September interview that De La Ronde made rent prepayments to his company for the building until 2040 — an amount totalling roughly $3.3 million.

De La Ronde also owned the Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie offices of Sandy Bay CFS and received rent from the child welfare agency for those properties, Prince said.

As of April 2022, De La Ronde was no longer listed as a registered social worker in Manitoba.

Barbara Temmerman, the executive director and registrar of the Manitoba College of Social Workers, says the list of active social workers is available publicly, but reasons for withdrawal or cancellation of registration can legally be shared only in specific circumstances.

CBC has consistently been unable to reach De La Ronde for comment.

Older CFS building torched

The child welfare agency’s headquarters in Sandy Bay First Nation burned down in December of 2019.

CBC News discovered through a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request two years later that the fire was intentionally set using an accelerant.

CBC also obtained surveillance video of the night of the fire.

Police said nobody was ever arrested for the fire, and the case was closed last year over a lack of evidence.

WATCH | Surveillance footage from early morning fire obtained by CBC News:

Person who allegedly set fire at Sandy Bay CFS caught on camera

4 months ago

Duration 1:40

The Dec. 15, 2019 fire at Sandy Bay Child and Family Services was caught on surveillance video with no sound. To make details more visible, CBC News zoomed in and edited the video to condense the passage of time.

Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation is also named in the suit against De La Ronde.

The company says the First Nation has been unjustly enriched by having the largely completed 10,474-square-foot building, without paying for it.

Contera also alleges the First Nation isn’t allowing the company to access the building, which is exposing the property to damage.

Chief Prince didn’t respond to a request for comment.

None of the allegations have been tested in court and a statement of defence hasn’t been filed as of Wednesday.