Original Published on Aug 10, 2022 at 22:02
By Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
It’s been almost three years since The Citizen first reported the story of a young Winnipeg couple whose dream of moving to Niverville was dashed in a high-profile real estate fiasco.
In 2019, motivated by a desire to escape the high crime rate of big city life, the Memic family fell victim to what would eventually be perceived by many as a well-played scam perpetrated by Fine Haus Building Company and its president, Jason Cianflone.
Laura Memic brought her story to the media in 2019 in order to help prevent other families from being likewise duped by claims of new house builds at low costs. By the fall of that year, the couple and their young child were stuck in an Airbnb rental, awaiting the construction of their new home in Niverville—a home that would never be built—and living with the harsh reality that they may never see the return of the large deposit they’d put down on that home, a deposit which had taken them years to save.
Today, Memic declines comment to The Citizen, citing that it took them too long to recover from the trauma to revisit it again. They never did move out of Winnipeg.
Back in 2019, as the Memics were discovering the lies and deception behind their promised home build, others around the southeast were doing the same. In September 2019, a publicly accessible Facebook page called “Jason Cianflone The Scam” was launched, the moderator of which has remained anonymous.1
The purpose of the page was clear: to expose Cianflone and the realtors assisting him in Fine Haus sales. Soon after the page went live, customer review after customer review from Fine Haus’s website was shared on Facebook. The comments demonstrated anger, heartbreak, and pleas to the building company for compensation.
Other Facebook posts came from Fine Haus customers throughout Manitoba, all of whom were left with homes in various states of completion before the work was abandoned. Their inquiries to Cianflone and his team were met with silence.
Still others, like the Memics, never even saw a shovel hit the ground. Just prior to their promised possession date, Memic discovered through a call to the Town of Niverville that no construction permit had ever been pulled on the lot that had been promised to them.
A further phone call to a representative of Fifth Avenue Estates, the development where the Memics’ property was to be located, revealed that Fine Haus didn’t even own the lot in question.
Fast-forward one year, to November 2020, and a post to the Jason Cianflone The Scam page shows a photo of a letter sent out by a licensed insolvency trustee to one of the many creditors of Fine Haus.
The letter indicates that an interim receivership had been completed and that proceeds available for distribution were being paid out to 51 claimants. Just under $40,000 was in the process of being doled out against claims totalling almost $1.5 million.
As found on the website for PwC Canada, a firm providing professional consulting to Canadian business owners, the definition of interim receivership is “a remedy available under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act for the purpose of protecting the assets of a company that is undergoing an insolvency process.”2
A Victim’s Story
Chelsi Jawa and her partner were awarded a small settlement in court toward their claim against Fine Haus.
“Through the small court case, we were refunded… an insulting $300,” Jawa says.
The couple had a home built with Fine Haus on Wyldewood Crescent in Niverville, one street down from Briarfield Court where the Memics would have lived if their dream had been realized.
Jawa says that the family went to see a Fine Haus spec house in February 2019. They paid a deposit on a similar build and chose their design details. The possession date was scheduled for that summer.
“We were more fortunate than some, you could say, and our home made it to the final phases,” Jawa says, “with the exception of our final grade and driveway being complete, which had been fully paid for [in advance].”
She says things began getting complicated almost from the start when the Fine Haus design manager contradicted what the realtor had told Jawa. Instead of custom finishings being credited toward the cost of the build, it would cost the couple extra.
“We [decided we] would just customize down the road and do all spec for now,” says Jawa.
Shortly into the build, though, the couple paid the construction site a visit only to realize that a door that was clearly marked on the building plan had been overlooked in the actual build.
“[The realtor] informed us that our second copy of plans—which we had revised to change the plumbing—no longer had this door,” says Jawa. “They removed it from the plan without informing us. But due to us signing off on the [second plans], we were now bound to it.”
The couple paid the builder extra to have the door installed.
Come possession day, Jawa says that the driveway, landscaping, and exterior finish remained incomplete. Following many inquiries and delays, the stucco was eventually installed and the completion of the driveway looked promising.
“We got the supplies for the driveway delivered [and then] one day we came home and the supplies were gone,” says Jawa. “The contractor informed us they were directed to take them to a Briarfield home to complete instead. Texts stopped being answered, calls were ignored… and our driveway was never complete. The realtor as well as the owner went MIA on us around August or early September.”
While most of the couple’s attempts at conversation with Cianflone and the realtor failed, Jawa’s husband was able to make one last connection with Cianflone by phone.
“[Cianflone] made it a point to state that he was aware I had aired a grievance on Facebook and that he would press charges if I didn’t remove this post,” Jawa says. “That was the last time we heard from him before the news circulated that he had fled to the U.S. and Fine Haus was dissolving.”
The whole experience, she says, left them feeling violated and disrespected. The couple was forced to borrow additional money to cover the cost of completing their driveway and landscaping, putting them deeper in debt and putting other projects on hold.
Tradespeople Tell Their Story
Bryan Trottier commented in The Citizen’s original story. His company, Trotco Electric, had over $30,000 worth of labour and materials invested in the Niverville Fine Haus homes before he became suspicious and pulled out.
He, along with about four other tradespeople, put liens on the homes and waited while Cianflone disappeared and left everyone hanging.
Trottier was able to recapture only a nominal portion of his investment through the liens. Through some creative collaboration with other tradespeople involved, however, Trottier managed to recover almost his entire loss.
“We actually partnered with a couple of other guys and bought one of the houses from the receivership group and then finished it and sold it,” Trottier says. “It was good, but you still have to pay for a house that you were already stiffed on so it’s a bit of a challenge.”
He’d like to reassure Fine Haus homeowners in Niverville that the tradespeople Cianflone’s crew hired were top-notch professionals performing excellent workmanship.
The same cannot be said for Cianflone himself. Thankfully, Trottier says, builders like him don’t come along every day.
“[Jason Cianflone] is a one-off for me,” Trottier says. “For some people, things don’t go their way and everything goes south. But this is the first guy that I felt like he was trying to [scam us].”
Dave Unger of UDT Interiors Inc. was one of the tradespeople who collaborated on the house purchase with Trottier.
“In all the years we’ve been in business… this was a pretty unique one in the way that [Fine Haus] was just suddenly gone,” Unger says. “We’ve had contracts go sour before but the company would still continue to operate or they would stick around and change names. [Fine Haus] was definitely not the norm.”
Others Weigh In
Ken Klippenstein was managing the sale of properties in Fifth Avenue Estates when Cianflone came along. Fine Haus purchased a few lots and put down deposits on others. The agreement stated that a house build could not begin on any lot until it had been purchased in full.
Red flags went up for Klippenstein in 2019 when he discovered a Fine Haus build that was well into the construction phase—indeed, the drywall was already in place—even though its lot had only been secured by deposit.
Reaching out to Klippenstein today, he says his company never filed a lawsuit against Fine Haus. Instead, thanks to contracts signed, Fifth Avenue Estates was able to reclaim all of the lots for which full payment hadn’t been received. They resold those lots to different builders.
Finally, back in 2019 The Citizen also heard from the local Fine Haus representative who worked for Cianflone for those few fateful months before Cianflone fled. Like the others, he said that he’d been sweet-talked into the job by a Fine Haus president who made lofty promises of charity and goodwill.
That representative continues to seek anonymity for the sake of his family and reputation. He, too, was scammed out of $30,000 worth of wages when Cianflone disappeared. It was then that this rep knew it had all been a ruse.
“Most people, myself included, have some deep latent trauma caused by this horrible individual and it’s legitimately painful dredging it back up,” he says. “On the flip side, I would love to see justice brought to Jason Cianflone. And if keeping his name fresh in the news is the way to do that, [so be it].”
That representative never recovered a dime of his unpaid wages.
Who Is Jason Cianflone?
Who is this man, Jason Cianflone? And where is he today? According to some rumours that have circulated, he could be pastoring a church in Texas.
Online searches reveal a religious blog attributed to someone named Jason Cianflone with a profile picture that looks distinctly similar to the man who is known to have operated Fine Haus Building Co.
According to this blog, the organization’s mission statement reads: “Spreading the good news and spiritual knowledge to all of God’s Children (TEXAS).”3
A search on LinkedIn reveals an account seemingly associated with Cianflone, where he posts on behalf of a publication called “Brighter Days Are Ahead For You.” This page is filled with faith-based memes and Bible verses.4
The Citizen reached out to Cianflone on LinkedIn, providing an opportunity for the man to share his side to the story. As with previous attempts by the media to contact him, the request has been met with silence.
This item reprinted with permission from The Citizen, Niverville, Manitoba