MANDEL: New trial for man who claimed son’s wedding as business expense

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Here comes the bride — and can we discuss your new metal order?

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As bizarre as it seems, Vince Mariani and his Mariani Metal Fabricating Ltd. (MMFL) have won another chance to argue they legitimately wrote off $86,000 for his son’s lavish nuptials as a business expense.

Who knew you could discuss shop at a 400-guest wedding?

Even the appeal judge sounded skeptical, but agreed the Kleinburg business owner deserves a new trial following a judicial error in the Ontario Court of Justice.

On June 4, 2011, Mariani’s son, Francesco Mariani, got married at a Montreal hotel before nearly 400 guests. According to the recent judgment, MMFL paid and claimed tax deductions for a significant amount of the wedding costs, including thousands of dollars of invoices for the reception held at the Embassy Plaza, bus transportation from Toronto to Montreal, and accommodations and breakfasts for wedding participants and guests.

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The groom also reportedly chipped in, but the judge noted that there was no evidence of how much he paid.

A 2013 audit by the Canada Revenue Agency concluded that a large amount of personal expenses were being declared as business expenses and charges were laid against Mariani and his company. Most of the lengthy trial dealt with the building costs of Mariani’s new home which had been written off as a business expense. Justice Mara Greene acquitted Mariani and MMFL on those counts.

The second — and more minor part of the trial — was about writing off his son’s wedding. He wasn’t as lucky there.

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In his defence, the company’s accountant testified that he’d been told by his boss that there would be many business associates at the wedding, but he didn’t know how many or who they were.

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The trial judge turned that into “no actual evidence that any customers, or potential clients, were invited to the wedding.” Greene found MMFL paid for what appeared to be most, if not all, of the wedding expenses and rejected the defence argument that it was a legitimate business expense.

Mariani and MMFL were convicted of tax evasion and making false or deceptive statements on personal and corporate tax returns. According to the Canada Revenue Agency, they had evaded $35,500 in income tax that they were now ordered to pay with interest. Mariani was also personally fined $15,127 and his company, $7,722.

In a ruling this week, Ontario Superior Court Justice Shaun Nakatsuru overturned the convictions. He found Greene had “misapprehended” the accountant’s testimony and wrongly concluded there was no evidence that any suppliers or customers were actually on the guestlist  — despite the employee saying that he believed there were.

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“Little evidence is not ‘no’ evidence,” Nakatsuru wrote. “Thus, this misapprehension of evidence led to an unfair trial.”

Mariani’s lawyers argued that the court should enter acquittals as a result of the “unreasonable”  verdicts. That was a bit much for Nakatsuru, who found that despite not considering some of the evidence, the trial judge’s conclusion wasn’t unreasonable at all and a jury would likely have come to the same decision to convict.

“A wedding by its very nature is an intensely personal affair,” he wrote. “While one cannot be absolute about it, a wedding does not usually lend itself to be characterized either in whole or in part as a business expense.”

But because of the judge’s error, Nakatsuru found Mariani and his company “were the victims of a miscarriage of justice. Thus, a new trial is warranted.”

So they will be back before another judge to once again try and outwit the taxman.

mmandel@postmedia.com

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