Harbor Port Development Partners: Who Are They?

Harbor-Port Development Partners logo

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke has sneaked off to China without so much as a by-your-leave.

It’s odd — most political leaders make hay out of their trips to the People’s Republic (some make operas) but our mayor prefers to steal away under cover of darkness after asking his deputy to feed the cat. And here’s me with so many questions for him regarding port development.

Actually, I’m conflicted on the issue of port development: part of me wants to ask a million questions but part of me fears everything I need to know can be found in the $100,000 report the CBRM commissioned from Neil MacNeil’s MMC Ltd in 2013 and received (and rejected) in July 2014.

But I’ve decided that if the mayor is going to press on with his port plans, then I’m going to ask my questions. For example, I asked Christina Lamey, Mayor Clarke’s spokesperson, how the CBRM came to choose Albert Barbusci and Barry Sheehy to market our port. She replied:

“Barry Sheehy, a summer resident in Cape Breton, saw the potential of the Port of Sydney and brought his partner, Albert Barbusci, to the table to see if there was an opportunity to establish a container terminal. Eventually [emphasis mine] together they incorporated Harbor Port Development Partners (HPDP) to oversee the project development.”

First of all, by this reckoning, the mayor chose Barbusci and Sheehy to promote our port for the same reason George Mallory climbed Mount Everest, i.e., because they were there.

Second, by “eventually,” Lamey means HPDP was registered on 26 May 2015, less than a month before the CBRM Council approved an exclusivity agreement with the firm and presumably over a year after they began their efforts on behalf of the Port of Sydney (this based on a CB Post article dated 7 July 2015 which stated, “Barbusci and Sheehy have already been working with the CBRM for 16 months, investing $1.2 million of their own capital into port development.”)

I asked Lamey how, exactly, Sheehy and Barbusci were presenting themselves to potential port partners in the months before they’d formed a firm or secured an agreement with the CBRM Council, but I’ve yet to receive a response.

But if what the Post reported is true, then in March 2014, at the behest of no one, Sheehy and Barbusci began throwing their own money around promoting the Port of Sydney, an activity they have apparently continued to this day.

Mahjong Mania

That seems odd, but it’s odder still if you consider that as they were marketing the Port of Sydney on their own dime, another of their ventures was quietly tanking. And here you must bear with me, because the story of that other venture is complicated. I’ve uploaded some pertinent documents, but you can see everything on the System for Electronic Document Analysis and Retrieval or SEDAR website if you search for Blue Zen Memorial Parks. Here’s the Coles Notes version:

In 2001, a private company named Events International Meeting Planners went public by means of a reverse takeover (in a reverse takeover, a private company acquires a public company, exchanges its shares for shares of the public company, thereby going public without the fuss of an initial public offering.)  In this case, Events International Meeting Planners took over a firm called Golden Gram Capital, a failed mining company turned failed RV campground and golf course operator. The newly formed public company changed its name to Events International Holding Corporation. Albert Barbusci was the chair of its board and Barry Sheehy was a director. A man named Edward Polak was president.

In 2004, EIH sold its “unprofitable” Events International Meeting Planners unit to Polak (for “no payment”) and in 2005, it bought Mahjong Systems Limited and Mahjong Development, Inc and became Dynasty Gaming , with Barbusci as CEO and Sheehy as an advisor. The firm’s focus was the promotion and marketing of their online gaming software, Mahjong Mania.

In 2010, having had no joy with Mahjong, Dynasty became Blue Zen Memorial Parks, Inc, a firm whose line of business was high-end Chinese cemeteries. Barbusci and Sheehy swapped hats: Barbusci became a “senior strategic advisor” and Sheehy was named “interim CEO.”

In 2011, Blue Zen announced it was pursuing a deal to mine gold and copper in Mongolia but this fell through. In 2013 (the last time it reported audited results), the firm announced an accumulated loss of $2.5 million and a working capital deficiency of $2.0 million. That same year, Barbusci announced he had paid a Chinese shareholder $1 for 30% of Blue Zen shares and now controlled 37% of the company.

In 2014, the firm announced it was pursuing a deal to enter the copper mining business in Arizona, but that also fell through. On 7 May 2015, Blue Zen announced the resignation of board member Paul Yaphe and stated its remaining directors were Jiaping Jiang and “Interim Chairman” Barry Sheehy.  On 25 May 2015, the Ontario Securities Commission issued a permanent cease trade order to Blue Zen Memorial Parks, Inc.

And on 26 May 2015, you’ll recall, Harbor Port Development Partners was registered.

So, if Barbusci and Sheehy were spending $1.2 million marketing the Port of Sydney beginning in March 2014, they were doing it as their own firm racked up losses. They were doing it as they also pursued gold and copper mining opportunities in Mongolia and Arizona. Sheehy was doing it as he served as managing director of ABC Domes Canada, a post to which he was appointed in November 2013 (four months before beginning his port development career) and which saw him speaking of “disaster-resistant, steel-reinforced thin-shell concrete domes” with the same authority he now brings to discussions of Triple-E class container ships.

Risky Business

But perhaps I’m being unfair. After all, Harbor Port Development Partners exists now and it is a new firm, not simply a new incarnation of an old firm. It has a business number (820203164RC0001) you can use to look it up here , a Montreal address and phone number, and a new website .

And HPDP is ambitious; its goal, according to the web site, is “nothing less than making transportation history.”

To which I feel compelled to reply: riding a Zamboni around the Cabot Trail would make transportation history while not necessarily improving the fortunes of the CBRM. Also, doesn’t that strike you as a little overwrought as a mission statement for a marketing firm? Did they consider “Bringing a container terminal to the CBRM” insufficiently ambitious?

Sheehy, according to the site, is “an accomplished writer and business consultant as well as a powerfully engaging speaker” whose clients “run the gambit [sic] from The Federal Reserve to the NFL to the Government of Kuwait.”

Barbusci is, apparently, a man who has “pursued joint venture and acquisition opportunities in the digital entertainment, real estate, casino and hotel development and financial services in North America, China, Japan and Asia.” Is it negative of me to wish the word “successfully” had preceded “pursued” or that the word “port” had appeared anywhere?

There is not a mention of Chinese cemeteries or Mahjong Mania to be found. And when the CB Post asked Sheehy about Blue Zen’s travails in June 2015, he blamed the firm’s difficulties on its Chinese partners and said, “If you’re in business, you understand that some things work and some things don’t — you win some and you lose some.” He also pointed out that the firm traded on a venture exchange and therefore involved “considerable risk.”

But what if one of the “risks” associated with your venture is your total lack of experience in the fields into which you are venturing? The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had some concerns along these lines.

In 2006, Dynasty Gaming filed a Form 20-F with the SEC to register as a “foreign private issuer”–a foreign company with equity shares on U.S. exchanges. In its response to that initial filing, SEC staff raised a number of concerns, including this one:

We note that you have entered an entirely new line of business with the acquisition of Mahjong Systems Limited and Mahjong Development, Inc., and that the new business appears to differ substantially from your prior business of planning and managing events in the field of women’s health. We note further that you retained many of the same executives from your prior business and that Mr. Ian Sherrington, the former President and Director of Mahjong Development, resigned in July of 2006. Please consider adding a risk factor relating to your management teams’ limited experience in the area of online gaming or tell us why you believe a risk factor is not applicable.

To which Dynasty responded:

We have added a risk factor titled ‘In connection with our change in business focus our management team has limited experience in the area of online gaming,’ which the Company believes addresses the Commission’s comment.

I will leave it to others to decide whether its utter lack of experience in online gaming was the reason why Dynasty failed in the online gaming business. The fact is, Barbusci and Sheehy’s business met with no success, which is why the firm changed its name to Blue Zen Memorial Parks, Inc and attempted to turn itself into first a Chinese cemetery business then a Mongolian mining company, then an Arizonan mining company before its shares ceased trading in 2015.

Now that they are port development experts, perhaps they might add the following risk factor to their web site:

“In connection with our change in business focus, our management team has limited experience in the area of making transportation history.”

And perhaps we could get some more information about what they are doing, saying, promising or negotiating on our behalf. Maybe we could get that information from our mayor. Maybe, even as I write this, he’s taking advantage of his time in The People’s Republic of China to learn how to run a more open and transparent administration.

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 This article first appeared on goCapeBreton.com