This man has a double identity. His company makes millions through public contracts | CBC News
A private security firm that has secured hundreds of millions of dollars in public contracts is headed by a man with a double identity, and the company’s questionable business practices have made it the target of an investigation, Radio-Canada’s Enquête program has learned.
In the last decade, Neptune has won public contracts across Canada, most notably with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Sûreté du Québec, Quebec’s provincial police force. It has also provided security to several courthouses in Quebec, does construction work on military bases and has roadwork contracts with Ontario’s Transport Ministry.
In an email, the Autorité des marchés publics (AMP), the agency that oversees public contracts in Quebec, confirmed that it is investigating the company.
Sources with knowledge of the security firm’s operations describe Robert Butler as the head of the company. Butler denies this.
“I am not the head of Neptune. I don’t manage Neptune, neither directly nor indirectly, ” Butler told Enquête during a phone conversation.
Instead, he claims to work for Neptune’s construction wing and that the organization is “very big, very large.”
This contradicts what he told the Quebec Superior Court in 2019 and 2020, when he testified under oath and said he was Neptune’s CEO.
Neptune has had several legal battles in recent years, including with the City of Montreal and Quebec City.
“I take care of the company’s business in different parts of the world,” Butler told the judge while answering questions from his lawyer.
In 2019, Henry Jenkins, a former security guard with Neptune, received an unexpected phone call.
At the time, he was seeking a few hundred dollars he believed the company owed him. He said the caller introduced himself as Robert Butler and said he was Neptune’s owner.
“He wasn’t happy. He was offended. He started yelling at me,” Jenkins said.
“He told me that he would use all of the financial resources of his business to clean me out financially, and that [the process] could last 10 years if he wanted.”
The name Robert Butler doesn’t appear on the company’s website. It also isn’t included in any of the company’s official documents.
While trying to uncover Neptune’s organizational structure and figure out who was running things, Enquête confirmed that Butler also goes by a second name: Badreddine Ahmadoun.
That’s the name he uses when he is running a real estate agency called Land/Max. Both Land/Max and Neptune are headquartered in Mississauga, Ont.
Martine Valois, a lawyer and professor with the Université de Montréal, says “to present yourself as someone else or with two identities is fraud.”
“He’s the one acting on behalf of the company. He can’t, at the same time, be a different person with other functions,” Valois said.
“I find that very worrisome, very worrisome given the nature of the services being rendered.”
‘Working in the shadows’
Enquête used a hidden camera to record two meetings with the man shrouded in mystery.
In both cases, Radio-Canada contributors showed up at his office and presented themselves as potential clients. In one meeting, he introduced himself as Robert Butler. In the other, he said his name was Badreddine Ahmadoun.
During the meeting about Neptune, Butler boasted about the company’s public contracts, including work for the Department of National Defence (DND). He also said that Neptune has “top secret” security clearances.
“We have permits for firearms and the transfer of people who are detained,” he said, while adding that the company prefers “working in the shadows.”
In the phone conversation with Radio-Canada, which took place after the secretly recorded meetings, Butler admitted to having used the name Badreddine Ahmadoune.
“The name I work with is Robert Butler. I have documents that were modified [to that effect],” he said, though he declined to provide proof.
When asked what his real name was, his answer was firm.
“That’s not your problem, which one is real and which isn’t real,” he said. “I can choose any name.”
Radio-Canada sources say Butler would refer to himself as being the president, the owner, or the head of operations at Neptune.
“But his name never appeared anywhere. He never wanted to sign a contract,” said a former Neptune employee. “He does everything, everything, everything. He has his hand in everything.”
Radio-Canada agreed to withhold the employee’s identity because they fear reprisals.
During a recent phone call to Neptune’s Quebec office, an employee referred to Butler as “the big boss.”
Questionable practices and lost contracts
The former Neptune employee describes Robert Butler as a man who “has his own rule book.”
“He thought he was above all laws,” the employee said. “Whether it’s for employment records, labour norms or whatever, he didn’t care.”
In recent years, Neptune has run into problems with staff and clients, and some of those issues have led to it losing contracts.
In 2016, Neptune lost a contract in the Montreal borough of Verdun due to overbilling.
“After the fact, we asked ourselves: ‘How did we give contracts to a company like this? Should we have been more careful?” said Jean-François Parenteau, the borough’s former mayor.
“But they were the lowest bidder. They were accredited. They were compliant. So we were obligated [to give them the contract].”
Radio-Canada recently learned that Neptune lost a $42-million contract with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to handle surveillance at an immigration detention centre in Laval, Que.
Lack of equipment, staff and training were among the reasons for ending the agreement that had been signed last summer. According to the CBSA, these issues could have jeopardized the safety of migrants at a detention centre.
Investigation almost wrapped up, decision looms
The Quebec government created the Autorité des marchés publics (AMP) in 2017.
This was in direct response to one of the top recommendations by the Charbonneau commission, which was charged with investigating corruption in the province’s construction industry.
“The Autorité des marchés publics has the power to examine not only the corporate structure of a business that wants to get public contracts, but all of the businesses and people that are linked to it,” said Valois, the law professor.
“If Mr. Butler, who also has a double identity, is behind Neptune even though he is nowhere to be found on the province’s business registry, neither as an administrator nor a shareholder, then that’s where you can mislead the Autorité des marchés publics.”
If authorities determine that Neptune has made false declarations or does not meet the government’s requirements with regard to integrity, the private security firm could lose its right to bid on public contracts.
The AMP told Radio-Canada that its investigation into Neptune is almost complete.
“A decision will be made shortly,” the agency wrote.
On Thursday, Quebec Public Security Minister François Bonnardel sent a letter to the Bureau de la sécurité privée (BSP), which regulates the province’s private security industry and issues permits to companies like Neptune.
In the letter, obtained by Radio-Canada, the minister writes that the reporting by Enquête reveals “several doubts related to the integrity of the governance of the Neptune organization.”
“Since this company holds a permit delivered by the Bureau de la sécurité privée and its delivery is contingent upon the respect of strict conditions, I ask that verifications regarding this company be carried out quickly and, if necessary, appropriate followups be done in compliance with the Private Security Act.”
The unseen owner
On paper, Hanane Outair is listed as the sole owner and administrator of Neptune.
While testifying in court, however, Butler said he reported to her as the company’s CEO once or twice per year.
Outair has a home in the Toronto area, not far from the Neptune offices. Enquête stopped by her home but was told that she was absent.
According to sources, Butler has forged her signature on company documents.
“I never signed the name Hanane Outair,” said Butler, though he acknowledged that the woman is an ex-partner. “You are talking about my personal life here.”
Butler told Enquête not to contact her. Outair declined to be interviewed for this story.