Rita Fulciniti put a down payment on a new west-end condo, thinking that home ownership would bring her a little comfort and financial security in her retirement years. Instead, the 66-year-old is living in a homeless shelter, broke, and still chasing the Toronto real estate agent who borrowed her life savings.
In March 2014, Fulciniti's $42,000 down payment was for a second-floor unit in the Vivid Condos on Michael Power Place near Bloor Street West and Islington Avenue. A year later, while the condo was still under construction, Fulciniti learned her potential roommate wouldn't be moving into the building.
'I have sleepless nights. I don't know who to turn to, where to go or who to talk to. It's devastating.'
- Rita Fulciniti
Fulciniti approached Chaim Smilovici — who also goes by the name Howard Smilovici, and was a real estate agent with Adenat Realty at the time — to find a tenant who would help cover the costs of carrying the condo. It was the beginning of her nightmare, she says.
"I have sleepless nights. I don't know who to turn to, where to go or who to talk to. It's devastating."
Smilovici found her a tenant, but he also asked to borrow $95,000 she had earmarked to help close the condo deal when construction of the building was complete.
In June 2015, she signed a loan agreement with Smilovici through his company, Maximum Sports Management Group Inc. The contract stipulated she would be repaid in full with a $5,000 cash bonus and an annual 12 per cent return on the loan.
'I trusted him'
"I trusted him," said Fulciniti. "I thought I could make a little more money. He said he'd give me $1,000 a month [in interest payments]."
Smilovici was supposed to pay Fulciniti $100,000 before she had to close on her condo in August 2015, but so far, not a penny of the money has been returned.
When contacted by the CBC Toronto, Smilovici conceded he borrowed the money, but "the entire situation went backwards and the money is lost." Smilovici says he invested Fulciniti's money in a nightclub.
"I didn't keep her money," he added.
Fulciniti says the real estate agent originally gave her postdated cheques to cover the $1,000 monthly interest on the loan, but even those bounced. Her bank provided her with a notice that there were insufficient funds in Smilovici's account.
Smilovici claims the cheques didn't bounce. He says he put a stop-payment order on them because he was angry that Fulciniti kept calling his office demanding her money.
"She was constantly calling my office. Before you know it, I was canned," said Smilovici. "She owes me peace and quiet."
Smilovici's former boss at a RE/MAX agency says he fired the real estate agent in June because Fulciniti wasn't the only one calling the office looking for Smilovici over unpaid money.
'She was constantly calling my office, before you know it, I was canned. She owes me peace and quiet.'
- Howard Smilovici talking about Rita Fulciniti
Reg Fleming says a man who was involved in a car accident with Smilovici claimed the real estate agent assured him he would pay for the damages. When the bill came in, Fleming says, Smilovici denied knowing the man or ever being in an accident.
"All these things affect our reputation. I'm trying to establish a business on a good reputation," RE/MAX manager Reg Fleming told CBC Toronto. "The owner said, 'You got to get rid of that guy [Smilovici].'"
Smilovici concedes there was an accident and that he did agree to pay for damages, but said, "It's a nonsense matter … there was no damage to his car."
Fulciniti says she was unable to close on her condo deal because Smilovici hadn't paid back either her $95,000 or the interest. The developer — The Pemberton Group — gave her a one-week extension to close the deal, but Fulciniti says "I couldn't close. I had no money."
'I'm a senior and that money was my life savings. Now I have absolutely nothing.'
- Rita Fulciniti
By August 10, 2015, Fulciniti had forfeited her $42,000 down payment to the developer, and was still out the $95,000 Smilovici and Maximum Sports borrowed from her.
With no condo to move into, the senior citizen stayed with a friend for several months, but now sleeps in a nearby shelter.
"I'm devastated because I'm a senior and that money was my life savings. Now I have absolutely nothing," she said.
CBC Toronto asked Smilovici if he plans to start repaying the money he borrowed.
"If she wants to get her lawyer to contact me, I am prepared to make restitution … if it's terms I can agree to," he said.
'You can't get blood from a stone'
He suggested he might be able to pay her $1,000 a month. When told that might take a decade at that rate, Smilovici replied, "It is what it is" and "you can't get blood from a stone."
Smilovici has few assets to his name, apart from a 2009 Mercedes-Benz. However, he is known to spend time in Boca Raton, Fla., where his wife is registered as the owner of a $118,000 condo purchased in September. She is also registered as the buyer of two condos in the Toronto area. The more recent of those purchases was a unit bought in July for $430,000 at 7460 Bathurst St. in Vaughan.
When asked if he would borrow money from his wife to repay Fulciniti, he replied, "It doesn't work that way."
An employee of Adenat Realty, the agency Smilovici worked for when he and his company borrowed Fulciniti's life savings, told CBC Toronto: "It has nothing to do with me," then hung up the phone.
Fulciniti said the ordeal has affected her health and she's worried she may spend the rest of her life in the women's shelter.
"I'm nowhere," she said, "after all the hard work I did throughout my life to save that money. I don't have a cent to my name."
Fulciniti told her story to Toronto police, but said police told her the case was a civil matter. She said she can't afford a place to live, let alone a lawyer.
John Lancaster can be reached at 416-205-7538 or at firstname.lastname@example.org