Toronto

Contractor accused of defrauding Ontario cottage owners pleads guilty to 7 of 13 charges

A contractor who allegedly took hundreds of thousands of dollars from multiple Ontario cottage owners for renovation projects but left major jobs unfinished has pleaded guilty to seven of 13 fraud-related charges against him.

Judge-only trial of Scott Eisemann, 54, began in Orillia on Thursday

A man stands in front of a wall.
Cottage owners around the Muskoka area claim Scott Eisemann and his company, Cottage Life Construction, took money from them for renovation and construction projects but didn't complete the work he was paid to do. (Toronto Police Service)

A contractor who allegedly took hundreds of thousands of dollars from multiple Ontario cottage owners for renovation projects but left major jobs unfinished has pleaded guilty to seven of 13 fraud-related charges against him.

The judge-alone criminal trial of Scott Eisemann, 54, got underway Thursday at the Ontario Court of Justice in Orillia, Ont. The charges against Eisemann included nine counts of fraud over $5,000, three counts of false pretence and one count of mischief to property.

Five days had been set aside for the trial, but court heard that late Wednesday an arrangement was reached in which Eisemann would plead guilty to some of the charges.

Defence lawyer Emily Dyer said she anticipates the remaining charges will be withdrawn as part of the arrangement. 

Eisemann's next court date is scheduled for Feb. 8. It is expected that a finalized agreed statement of facts will be read into the court record and the judge will address sentencing. Crown prosecutor Neil Riley has proposed a "significant penitentiary sentence" and several restitution orders.

The charges were laid after multiple Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) investigations stemming from complaints from cottage owners in Parry Sound, Georgian Bay, Orillia and elsewhere in the Muskoka region. The cottagers alleged they hired Eisemann and his company, Cottage Life Construction, for renovation or construction work, but that he failed to start or complete the work.

A group of people look into the camera for a photo.
From left to right, Rene and Pamela Langevin, Liz Saunders, Mirella Cortese-Burt, Kim Burt and Laurie Baker. All victims, save for Laurie Baker's case, were connected to the charges laid against Scott Eisemann. Eisemann pleaded guilty to defrauding all of them in a string of cottage renovation projects except Laurie. (Ryan Patrick Jones/CBC)

Eisemann declined to take any questions from media on Thursday, but Dyer said her client has decided to "take responsibility for everything that went on in the past" by entering guilty pleas. 

CBC Toronto has reported on a number of his projects, including one at a family's cherished Muskoka getaway near Bracebridge, Ont. 

Liz Saunders said she paid Eisemann $64,000 to raise her cottage, build a new foundation and lower it back down. In the court documents, that figure was revised to $59,000.

Instead of completing the job, Eisemann is accused of taking Saunders's money, walking away from the job and leaving the modest cabin perched on wooden blocks, two metres off the ground.

Even though Eisemann plead guilty Thursday, Saunders said she still isn't sure how she feels given he has previously been convicted.

"He did two years before," she said. "And clearly it wasn't enough, because he came back, started a new company and started doing this again."

A woman stands in front of a cottage that's raised up precariously on wooden blocks two metres off the ground.
Liz Saunders says she paid Eisemann and Cottage Life Construction to raise her cottage, build a new foundation and lower it back down. Instead, her cottage was left perched precariously on wooden blocks for months. (John Lancaster/CBC)

In another case CBC Toronto reported on, Rene Langevin said his family paid $14,000 to Eisemann and his company to renovate the bathroom of their cottage near Parry Sound. The work was never completed.

"I think Scottie needs to be in jail," Lagenvin said. "Hopefully justice is served."

When court let out Thursday, Lagenvin's wife Pamela said she was relieved by the guilty plea.

"I think it's the first day towards settling this case after five years," she said. "We're glad that something is coming to fruition and we hope this never happens again."

In total, CBC Toronto spoke with at least seven cottage owners who say they handed over tens of thousands of dollars to Eisemann and Cottage Life Construction. They accuse Eisemann, who has also used the names Scott Evan and Scott Daniels, of abandoning the projects he was paid to do.

Eisemann convicted of fraud in 2014

The OPP arrested Eisemann in November 2020, one day after CBC Toronto reported on Saunders's story, although the fraud and possession of property obtained by crime charges he was charged with at that time were connected to two different property owners.

Eisemann was arrested again in May of 2021, and the OPP filed more fraud charges against him. His alleged victims were from a number of cottage country municipalities, the OPP said at the time.

The next month he was arrested and charged for a third time, this time for allegedly bilking Saunders, who originally blew the whistle on him.

Eisemann has been convicted before.

In 2014, he pleaded guilty to defrauding a 92-year-old, legally blind Toronto woman out of her life savings, totalling $132,000.

He was sentenced to two years in prison after the judge determined Eisemann had taken the money from the victim for "needless renovations" on her home.

Not long after serving his sentence, in September 2016, Eisemann opened Cottage Life Construction.

The company filed for bankruptcy in 2020, owing clients and contractors more than $300,000.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan is a reporter with CBC Toronto. He has also worked for CBC in Vancouver, Yellowknife and Ottawa, filing for web, radio and TV. You can reach him by email at ryan.jones@cbc.ca.

With files from John Lancaster

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