One of the fun things about working for The Coast is that sometimes we get to write stories like “Hey, do you think there are enough funny tweets about that Titanic hotel to do something with?”
And there are, there are some absolute bangers, like these:
For a lot less than $300 million, I will provide a more authentic experience by dropping a bunch of people in the middle of the freezing Atlantic Ocean with an inadequate number of life boats. https://t.co/B1AZRdiZ0Y— Derek "Mucho grande" Simon (@DartmouthDerek) June 8, 2022
If only there was some kind of historical metaphor for hubris and failure https://t.co/lM8VwOSc4m— Medium__Talent 💉💉💉 (@Medium__Talent) June 9, 2022
But in putting the story together there were two tweets that sent The Coast’s newsroom on a wild chase that took up most of the day. This one:
And this poignant gem from Halifax Shipping News:
It’s a good question. What sort of business doesn’t spend the $30 on a custom domain? And answering that question is where things got really, really weird.
Clark Squires & Associates
The story of the massive Titanic replica, which will allegedly house a restaurant, hotel and aquarium on the Halifax waterfront, began when the Chronicle Herald published an article about the project. That article takes its information from “a post on LinkedIn” from Clark Squires & Associates. Looking into that company, we came across some red flags.
Clark Squires & Associates Ltd is a company registered in Nova Scotia as an “Extra-provincial Corporation”—it has addresses in both NS and PEI—but according to the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stock Companies, its registration was revoked in 2020. According to PEI’s corporate registry, Clark Squires and Associates was founded in June 24, 1982 as Mulberry Motel Limited.
The phone number on the Clark Squires & Associates website goes to a voice mailbox that is not set up. And as the tweet above points out, the email address for this “Global Business Consulting Firm” that is supposed to be able to handle a $300-million project is the super-professional firstname.lastname@example.org.
The address listed on Clark Squires’ website is 181 Herring Cove Road, unit 200. After a visit to the building and an awkward conversation with a few interns, The Coast is able to confirm that the unit is currently occupied by the unaffiliated and unrelated company Over the Edge.
A second Herald story about the Titanic Experience features an interview with Squires. “This is going to be huge for Halifax,” he says. Squires names his friend Zoran Cocov of Cocov Destinations as being involved with the project, and says that they will be announcing a site for the development in September. We tried to reach Squires’ ostensible business partner through Cocov Destinations, but the email listed on Cocov’s website bounced back as an email that doesn’t exist.
We called other companies listed on Squires’ LinkedIn. The ones that got back to us said that yes, Squires did work for them. All except for one: the UN. This is where things get extremely weird.
A letter from a fake UN department
Squires says, on his Linkedin profile and his website, that he’s a strategic advisor for the United Nations Department of Sports, Music, and the Arts. Here’s the thing: There is no United Nations Department of Sports, Music, and the Arts.
Squires posted a letter on his website, from so-called director of the UNDSMA Steve Leighton, thanking him for his “comprehensive presentation and briefing.” We called Leighton’s number at the bottom of the letter. That number goes to a voicemail that is not set up. Weird for a UN director not to have a set-up voicemail.
So we called the office of the spokesperson for the UN secretary-general, who said there is no Department of Sports, Music and the Arts at the UN. A quick Google search for “Steve Leighton UN” produces zero results for a UN department director.
There is a website at the address UNDSMA.org. It looks like it might be a legitimate website, albeit one with not a lot of content. And UNDSMA’s social media channels all have between zero and one followers each. There are a few initiatives on the website, including a “PEACE Crypto Xperience.”
On Squires’ Facebook, he writes about helping the UNDSMA with a “Ukraine Festival for Hope,” which includes selling NFTs by Ukrainian artists. This doesn’t pass the smell test either. A Google search of the festival yields a website with the URL festivalofhope.masterctrl.io. When clicked on, a page pops up reading “this account has been suspended.”
Alarm bells going off, we called the number listed on the UNDSMA’s page. “How did you get this number?” the person on the other end asked, sounding hostile. The tone of the call turned cagey, and then diplomatically vague. The person identified themselves as Byron Byrd. He assured us the UNDSMA was totally legit. When asked about Squires, Byrd said they vaguely knew of him.
The Coast has an interview set up with Squires on Friday about his involvement with an almost definitely fake UN department, and we’ll keep you posted.
The stolen image
The digital rendition of the proposed Titanic Experience that circulated in the news is taken from Squires’ LinkedIn. What the Herald cropped out is the fact that the image is a photo of a graphic on a laptop, presumably taken by Squires. If you squint, you can see a watermark in the corner.
The original image doesn’t belong to Squires at all. The watermark belongs to Lex Parker Interior Design Consultants, and is from a page on their website describing a Titanic Experience that was set to open in Niagara Falls in 2018.
Susan Parker, marketing manager at Lex Parker, has been leaving comments on reposts of the Herald’s article on LinkedIn, writing “this design has been STOLEN from Lex Parker Design Consultants Ltd. Of St Catharines, Ontario, a project proposed for Niagara Falls in 2014. The rendering was by Lex Parker and has been used without authorization!”
In an email to The Coast, Squires says he didn’t want his Titanic posts to be seen by the public at all. “I did not send out a press release and Saltwire pouched [sic] my linkedin profile,” he writes. “I have had to agree on a NDA and non-circumvent for the Titanic Project.
“The info was for my network on Linkedin and not for public distribution as a formal press release would have been sent out when we had control of the land site and had our financing. I am not very happy.”
In a *third* Herald piece, Sheldon MacLeod does a 12-minute interview with Squires, who sounds happy enough for the attention.
So what does this all mean?
After a day of reporting, we can say for sure that something is fishy about this whole Titanic project. We aren’t certain what Squires is up to besides what he says he’s up to. We don’t know yet if the Titanic project is linked to the people running the fake UN department. And we don’t know if Squires is a scammer, the one being scammed or what.
We’re still chasing this, and we don’t know where it will lead. We just wanted to let you, dear reader, behind the curtain a bit so you can see how journalism happens. And don’t worry, we are still chasing this because something about it just doesn’t smell right. And that stink is not just the insensitivity of capitalizing on the deaths of 1,504 people.