By Kevin DonovanChief Investigative Reporter
Tue., Nov. 15, 2022timer4 min. read
updateArticle was updated 1 hr ago
Tony Sinopoli — Tony the Contractor — has been arrested and charged with fraud along with his son and another man in connection with renovations done on the home of a retired nurse and 14 other homeowners.
Sinopoli, 54, turned himself in to Toronto Police Monday at 42 Division. With him was his son Francesco Sinopoli, 27, and one of his workers, Wayne McNeil, 45.
The total “construction fraud” alleged by police is $1,429,000, involving 15 separate projects dating back 12 years. Police allege that Sinopoli and the other men concocted schemes to overcharge seniors and other vulnerable people. Police allege the work was shoddy, or not done at all.
Detective-Const. Dana Clark of the Financial Crimes Major Fraud Section began looking into Sinopoli’s activities back in May, the same time the Star began its investigation. Both police and the Star were alerted to the plight of 75-year-old retired nurse Judy Allen by a local realtor.
In Allen’s case, she hired Sinopoli in late 2020, asking him to make alterations to her 800-square-foot bungalow near Yonge Street and Highway 401. Allen, who was in and out of hospital over the next eight months, said that in a “flash” she had five mortgages totalling $1.5 million on her house. Four of those mortgages were from Harold Gerstel, who does business as both Harold the Jewellery Buyer and Harold the Mortgage Closer. The face value of the mortgages was 22 per cent but a report filed in court as part of Allen’s civil case against Sinopoli and Gerstel states that the real interest was closer to 53 per cent, taking into account a series of hefty, prepaid “lending fees.”
Detectives executed a search warrant on Sinopoli’s home in late May, taking away boxes of documents. The Star interviewed Sinopoli after police left his home and he said a “million per cent” he did nothing wrong.
The charges against Sinopoli for the Allen renovation are fraud over $5,000, possession of the proceeds of crime, and money laundering (money laundering is a charge that in this case refers to someone allegedly converting money fraudulently obtained into other goods). The total value of the fraud alleged in the Allen case is $1,029,000. Sinopoli’s son, who did work at Allen’s home, also faces one count of fraud. McNeil faces two counts of fraud in the Allen case.
While police continue to investigate Allen’s allegations against Gerstel, the mortgage lender, no charges have been laid against him. In a civil suit brought by Allen against Sinopoli and Gerstel, Gerstel has stated he was not in “cahoots” with Sinopoli and says he has done nothing wrong.
Detective-Const. Clark said that once he started looking into the case, the “floodgates” opened and he received information from members of the public. To date, 14 other people, including three over the age of 65, have come forward to make allegations against Sinopoli and McNeil.
The total value allegedly defrauded for these renovation projects is $400,000.
Clark said the projects involved are smaller than in the Allen case, typically landscaping, cement work and small interior renovations.
Police found that Sinopoli has frequently changed the name of his company. Over the past 12 years he has carried on business as In Time For Finishing Touches; Scala Exteriors; and AFS Contracting (Anthony Sinopoli). Recently, he incorporated a new one, Upper Level Renovations.
The Star, in its investigation of the Allen case, found that Sinopoli lacked experience to do what turned into a large remodelling project. An engineer’s report filed in the civil case described one part of Sinopoli’s renovation as “an accident waiting to happen” and said that the work Sinopoli did actually devalued the small bungalow.
Meanwhile, Allen’s home on Johnston Avenue has been sold under power of sale. Allen has gone to court asking for proceeds of the $1.49 million sale to be frozen in court pending a trial to determine whether Gerstel, who lent money, or Allen, who says she was defrauded, wind up with the money. With Gerstel’s four mortgages, and one other, there is no equity left in the home. Allen now lives in a retirement home not far from the home she owned since 1987. She had planned to “age in place,” and the idea behind the renovation was to make it a more livable space, one that she could easily navigate in her walker (she has severe arthritis and numerous other ailments).
Police say the Allen case is a true “cautionary tale” for anyone contemplating renovations. Clark recommends that people ask for references, Google the company, visit a previous construction project to assess how good a renovator is, and consult with family members to get their advice.
Allen, who has no children, chose AFS Contracting because it was the first in alphabetical order in a newspaper list of contractors.
All three men charged Monday were released on their own recognizance and told to appear in court next week.
Police have asked anyone with information about the case to contact Detective Clark at email@example.com or to call him at 416-808-7318.
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