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GTA contractor sued 11 times, as homeowners left ‘in disgust’

When Paul and Teresa Polyviou moved into their new home in Kleinburg, Ont., they envisioned hosting family and friends in the backyard.

Last May, the couple hired Gianni (John) Evangelisti of Freedom Pools to bring that vision to life by extending their interlocked driveway and building a side walkway to an all-stone backyard patio, with new concrete stairs and a shaded wooden canopy.

It was supposed to be a two-week job, Paul Polyviou said.

Almost a year and more than $72,000 later, there’s gravel at the side and back of the house, no stones. There’s no canopy, just four posts in the ground. The backyard steps were finished, but the family hired another company to level them. 

The driveway extension was partially completed using stones Polyviou said were the wrong size and colour.

“I look at this and I’m in disgust,” he said. 

Eight months after the project started, the family filed a fraud complaint with York Regional Police claiming Freedom Pools took their money and abandoned the job — and they’re not the only Greater Toronto Area homeowners who say they’ve had a bad experience with Evangelisti and his Vaughan-based companies: Freedom Pools and JL Landscape & Design.

The backyard of a residential home with gravel on the ground and a set of concrete stairs.
Polyviou hired Freedom Pools to lay interlocked patio stones, install a set of concrete stairs and build a wooden canopy in the backyard. (Mark Boschler/CBC)

Pattern of disputes over incomplete jobs

CBC Toronto spoke to four families who say they hired one of Evangelisti’s companies between 2017 and 2023 to install in-ground pools or to do landscaping. Collectively, the families say they’ve paid more than $200,000. 

One family claims they fired him after only one week, alleging Evangelisti didn’t work as much as promised. The other three claim Evangelisti’s company would start work, then not return for days, sometimes months, dragging on jobs — effectively abandoning them in various states of completion. 

CBC Toronto has reviewed emails and texts that show Polyviou and other homeowners repeatedly complained about the lack of progress. Evangelisti and a Freedom Pools employee pledged over multiple messages that workers would show up, but the homeowners say nobody did.

Two of the homeowners CBC Toronto spoke to have taken legal action against Evangelisti, and three say they have reported him to police. 

Aurora residents Rimas and Viktorija Jocevicia sued Evangelisti and JL Landscape & Design in small claims court in 2017 to recoup their $15,000 deposit claiming he broke their agreement and damaged their property. 

The family hired him to install a pool but claimed they fired him after he only did six hours of work during the first week but refused to return any money. They reached a settlement, where the couple agreed to remove negative online reviews in exchange for $10,000. They say he never paid and the reviews remain online. 

A man and woman sit at a kitchen table.
Ayelet and Michael Kushnirsky obtained a default small claims court judgment for $9,000 against Evangelisti and his numbered company in March 2024 after claiming the contractor hadn’t finished a pool and interlocking project they hired him for in July 2021. (Mark Boschler/CBC)

Last month, Maple homeowners Ayelet and Michael Kushnirsky received a default judgment for $9,000 after claiming Evangelisti took money for unfinished work and undelivered pool equipment and did not meet deadlines, creating “loss of usage, anguish and distress.”

They’d hired Freedom Pools in July 2021 to install a pool and do interlock landscaping. As of March 2023, the Kushnirskys say the liner and interlock was still incomplete and pool equipment they paid for was never delivered. They decided to hire another company to finish the work, which they say was done in two weeks.

“We have to save other families,” said Kushnirsky.

“It’s caused so much friction, so much stress, so much anxiety, so [many] sleepless nights for something that should have been so simple,” Polyviou said. 

In an email to CBC Toronto, Evangelisti didn’t respond to the families’ specific allegations but denied any wrongdoing and suggested the homeowners are to blame due to late payments and change requests. 

Tanya Walker, a lawyer who specializes in these kinds of cases, said if homeowners can’t work out disagreements with contractors over incomplete or deficient work, they have little recourse other than to sue — but even if they win, they may not recoup a dime.

“You are stuck with trying to collect money and register liens on the contractor’s home or garnish bank accounts, assets,” Walker said. 

“It might be very difficult and it might not collect anything or very little.”

A man looks at the camera.
Contractor Gianni (John) Evangelisti, of Freedom Pools and JL Landscape & Design, denied taking money that’s unaccounted for and suggested homeowners are to blame for delayed projects due to late payments and change requests. (lorinda5/Instagram)

A pile of lawsuits, unpaid debts

Court records show Evangelisti and his companies have been sued by at least 11 former customers and businesses between 2017 and 2023.

That includes the Jocevicia and Kushnirsky cases, as well as two civil cases in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and two other small claims court cases in which homeowners who hired Freedom Pools to install a pool make similar claims of delayed or unfinished projects. 

In the case of a Richmond Hill homeowner seeking to recoup $153,500, the contractor filed a statement of defence blaming the holdup on delays receiving drawings from a landscape designer and said the company “remains willing to fulfil its contractual obligations.”

The two other homeowners who filed cases in small claims court for unfinished pool projects each obtained default judgments in their favour after neither Evangelisti nor his companies filed statements of defence.

Two men are speaking in the backyard of a home next to an empty, unfinished pool.
Evangelisti of Freedom Pools speaks to Michael Kushnirsky in the backyard of the Kushnirsky home in Maple. (Submitted by Ayelet Kushnirsky)

When asked if the force was investigating complaints about Evangelisti or his companies, a spokesperson for the York Regional Police said it doesn’t speak about ongoing investigations or identify investigation subjects.

Const. Lisa Moskaluk said disputes between contractors and customers are often civil in nature, but on a case-by-case basis police may consider criminal charges if there’s a pattern of similar complaints.

“If some work has been completed but it’s not satisfactory and the contractor’s information and company is legitimate, that would lean more towards civil litigation,” said Moskaluk.

Evangelisti is not facing any criminal charges.

‘He disappeared for months’

The Polyvious signed a contract for $87,000, including taxes, and paid a $26,103 deposit when they hired Freedom Pools on May 2, 2023. Banking records show they made another payment of $26,103 on May 8. Polyviou says work began shortly after that but stopped abruptly at the end of May.

“That’s when he kind of went MIA,” Polyviou said. “He disappeared for months.”

He says workers returned for “three or four days of work” at the end of August, then the company demanded more money.

An employee emailed Polyviou on Aug. 29 saying he was behind on the payments and that the money he already paid does “not cover what we have done and what we need to buy and we don’t really float the jobs.”

Polyviou paid another $20,000 that day, after the company indicated it would like to finish the job within a week. However, after cashing that cheque, he says workers didn’t return until October when they did a couple days of work, but the job remained unfinished.

A woman sits at a desk inside her law office.
Lawyer Tanya Walker says that homeowners who have disputes with contractors over incomplete or deficient work have few options other than to sue. (Grant Linton/CBC)

Half a year later, and he says no more work has been done.

In November, after another company estimated less than a quarter of the job had been completed, Polyviou demanded Evangelisti and Freedom Pools pay back $57,000. He says they have not. 

Evangelisti and the Polyvious remain at odds over who is to blame.

In emails to the client, Evangelisti blamed Polyviou for setting the project back by five to six weeks by requesting permission from the subdivision developer to change the grading. Freedom Pools also said there were delays obtaining materials from its supplier.

Clients agree to payment structure: contractor

Evangelisti says Freedom Pools uses a payment structure broken into five payments: a deposit, start of work, when excavation is complete, after the pool is installed and interlock is ready for installation and a final payment upon completion.

“The payment structure is given to the clients before any work starts and is fully excepted [sic] by the home owner via email,” Evangelisti told CBC Toronto in an email. 

“I have not taken any funds that A) where [sic] not accounted for B) products being delivered and installed.”

Evangelisti promised to provide CBC Toronto with documentation he said would show the homeowners were to blame.

Instead, he filed a notice of application at the Ontario Superior Court in Toronto seeking to prevent the publication of this story, arguing the customer complaints are “frivolous and vexatious and are not truthful.”

In a court filing, Evangelisti said he is preparing a statement of claim against the Kushnirskys, Polyvious and another family CBC Toronto spoke to “for the balance owing on the contracts and for not fulfilling financial agreements.” 

At a hearing on April 8, he told the judge that 90 to 95 per cent of the work was completed on those projects. He also said he has responded to all lawsuits against him, in some cases settling or filing a statement of defence.

In the other three small claims court cases involving pool projects, including the Jocevicias, Evangelisti said he filed or was going to file a motion to set aside any default judgments and proceed to a settlement conference or trial. He also cited problems with the court procedures in some of those cases.

Evangelisti said he feels his former customers are “purposely intending to try and harm me” and told the judge, “I feel that I’m being picked on.”

Justice Robert Centa dismissed Evangelisti’s application.

In his ruling, Centa described the contractor’s legal action as “little more than an attempt to muzzle journalists attempting to report on a story of significant public interest.” 

He said the fact that Evangelisti named his former customers as respondents in the case “appears to be an attempt to intimidate and silence those who would speak to the media about their concerns with applicants’ business practices.”

Evangelisti says he is appealing that decision.

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