A Calgary man with outstanding warrants for fraud and theft has been living in the Sault for about two years with his partner. Now the pair is facing fraud charges here, and Tomei faces a charge of theft, after allegedly victimizing a local couple who rented them a house to live in.
After Steve Tomei was charged with multiple counts of fraud and theft in Calgary, he and his partner Melissa Scheiber moved to Sault Ste. Marie and became tenants of Chris Ricci and his wife, another couple who had recently moved to the city to begin the first stage of their dream retirement.
The couple says that dream quickly turned into a nightmare as the Riccis became entangled with the alleged fraudsters. Their lives were turned upside down after months of unpaid rent, stolen guitars and unfinished renovations.
The allegations against Tomei and Scheiber have yet to be proven in court. Reached by telephone on Monday, the pair deny the charges against them.
The retirement plan
For Ricci, the story started in November 2021 when he was looking for a handyman to help with some projects. He and his wife had recently moved to the Sault from Barrie to live in semi-retirement.
The idea was to purchase the house on Third Avenue, fix it up and, in a few years, sell it and move to their dream house overlooking Lake Superior.
Initially, Tomei was hired to do some drywall.
“He came over and we told him what we needed done. Worked out an hourly rate and a timeline for small projects. If he did good on this one he could get the next one and go from there,” recalled Ricci. “About two weeks later he contacts me and says he found kitchen cabinets and counter tops, sends me the pictures and says he can get them for $2,300.”
Ricci said he paid Tomei in advance for materials and labour.
“We were expecting the cabinets, so I started tearing out the kitchen to get it ready. In the meantime I hired him to do drywall in our back three-season room to turn it into a four-season room,” said Ricci. “He starts doing drywall and we start seeing these weird patterns, bringing their kid with them, asking for advances — needing gas money and constantly needing more money for little things like trim.”
Ricci says after a few weeks, the cabinets hadn’t materialized, but Tomei always had an excuse.
About the same time, the Riccis got a pleasant surprise. They found a house in Goulais that was exactly what they were looking for. It was going to be tight, but they managed to close the deal in mid-December.
As the Riccis started spending more and more time in Goulais, Tomei and Scheiber asked to move into the Sault Ste. Marie house as tenants. What the Riccis didn’t know is another landlord in the city was desperately trying to get the alleged fraudsters to move out.
In August of 2021, a few months before the Riccis met them, Scheiber was ordered by a Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) tribunal to pay thousands of dollars in arrears to landlord Clem Nadeau. She had paid a $1,600 deposit for the rental of the Black Road property in September of 2020, but by August 2021 was $7,772 in arrears.
Nadeau recalls Tomei, Scheiber and their children were living in a motel at the time he rented to them, not long after they moved from Calgary.
“They told me they were travelling across Canada and went past Sault Ste. Marie and then they said they came back to the Sault because they fell in love with it,” said Nadeau.
References were checked and a deposit was paid, but soon after the rent stopped coming in. Nadeau eventually took Scheiber to the LTB tribunal seeking an order to evict.
An order was eventually imposed by LTB effective Aug. 31, 2021, but when Nadeau followed up, he says he found that order had been reversed without his knowledge after the tenants told the board an agreement had been reached with the landlord.
“LTB reversed the order for eviction without notifying me, without asking for proof from them and we had to start all over again and make another application,” said Nadeau. “They know how to work the whole system, all around.”
Nadeau says it took months for him to finally be rid of them. In the end, Nadeau said $13,500 was owed but he had to forgive it to get them to move out.
“I can go after him for not cleaning up the place, it’s just not worth it. I’m so glad they’re gone,” said Nadeau.
Scheiber confirmed to SooToday an agreement was reached with Nadeau before a second eviction order could be issues.
“We didn’t even go to it because the lawyer and us decided on an agreement and Clem was not allowed to go after us as long as we moved out by February, which we did," she said.
Without knowledge of the situation with Nadeau’s property, the Riccis decided to rent to Tomei and Scheiber on Jan. 28, 2022.
“We had a meeting with them in the living room. We see you guys are having a hard time and we need these renovations done, we just bought this property and can use help paying the bills. So let’s get you in here for February 1st,” said Ricci, recalling the meeting.
The Goulais home had no running water at the time, so the Riccis say they came up with a verbal agreement allowing them to come in to fill up bottles of water to take to the lake house. They also left some personal items behind in the Sault house, including Chris’s prized guitars.
“Didn’t get it in writing, didn’t get a rental agreement signed. Didn’t do a credit check on them,” said Ricci. “I assumed they were decent people.”
What Ricci didn’t know at the time is when Tomei moved from Calgary to the Sault, he left behind multiple outstanding warrants for fraud and theft, which SooToday has since confirmed.
In Calgary, Tomei was most recently charged with one count of theft under $5,000 and one count of fraud under $5,000 and there is still a warrant outstanding for his arrest. There are also outstanding warrants for numerous traffic offences, including disqualified driving, driving without insurance and displaying unauthorized licence plates.
The Crown Attorney’s office in Calgary said Tomei faced numerous "failure to comply" charges, which are laid when an accused does not follow a court order or police undertaking.
Tomei told SooToday the charges against him should actually be faced by another person he did business with.
“My name was the only one on there and that’s who the customer came after was me,” said Tomei of the Calgary fraud charges.
“We didn’t run from them, I was working for another company and it was a fail to appear, is why there is warrants because we couldn’t make it to court at the time, that’s what that was,” he added.
Now in 2022, the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service has charged both Scheiber and Tomei with one count of fraud under $5,000. Tomei also faces an additional charge of theft under $5,000.
No news release was sent to local media to announce the Sept. 26 charges, despite the numerous outstanding charges in Calgary.
In the sworn statement on the court documents, Sault Police said the fraud charge is in relation to unfinished renovations on the Riccis' Sault home.
In response, Tomei told SooToday they did get behind on rent, but it was the Riccis who instructed them to cease work on the house.
“We moved in to this house as tenants that were going to do some renovations and we were doing every and doing the floor for them. We were late rent by $600 and they stopped us, they stopped the renovations because we were late on rent,” he said. “We are not frauding nobody, we are just doing what we were told. We got told to stop doing the renovations, so we stopped.”
Ricci believes there are other victims in the Sault and says he has been in contact with multiple people who say they have been taken in by Tomei and Scheiber. So far in the Sault, the pair has only been charged by police for fraud and Tomei also faces a charge of theft in relation to the Riccis.
“It’s sad we have gone this far with the process, but we could have gone a bit further to get a few more victims in there," said Ricci. “There’s a lot more we could get them for, it’s just a huge list."
Ricci said after months of back-and-forth calls with police, it was vindicating for the charges to finally be filed. Scheiber and Tomei are scheduled to make their first court appearance in December.
The pair promise to be in court to defend themselves against the charges.
“I am going to get my name cleared and then I want a public apology," said Tomei.
Scheiber added: "I will be in court and I will make sure I have a lawyer to back me up on all of it, because I am going to be fighting this. It is all false and should be tossed out and hopefully I will get my public apology."
Ricci is a lifelong musician and collector of guitars. He plays bass in a KISS cover band called Rock and Roll Over that plays in an annual charity show to help raise awareness and funds for Cystic Fibrosis.
The band prides itself on offering an authentic late-70s KISS experience, from the makeup to the costumes and right down to the instruments.
Because Tomei and Scheiber had been coming and going from his house for months to do renovations, Ricci says they were trusting and not in a hurry to move out some of his belongings when they moved in as tenants.
The Riccis had never been landlords before and hoped they could remain friendly with their new tenants, but they say as soon as they handed over the keys, the relationship changed.
A few days after Tomei and Scheiber moved in, the Riccis say they came to the Sault house to fill a large bottle of water, as they had negotiated in advance. According to Ricci, they were told they couldn’t come in and in subsequent visits were told not to come back.
Ricci alleges for almost every month they have been tenants, Tomei and Scheiber refused to pay any rent.
“Now we are doing everything legally with 24-hour notification, dropping it off at the house, asking to come in for inspection and we get denied,” said Ricci. “We learned the truth, you have no rights as a landlord.”
Then his concern turned to the property they left behind, especially the four guitars. When he could not recover them from the home, Ricci filed a police report.
Three of the guitars were eventually recovered in July by Sault Police from a local pawn shop. Sault Police said in the sworn statement on the theft under $5,000 charge that it relates to theft of Ricci's guitar.
“The one time they paid us rent, we find out they sold the guitars to do it,” said Ricci.
Tomei told SooToday the allegation of theft is false.
“We haven’t stolen nothing from these guys. We didn’t steal the guitars from them. There was stuff left in his house, but this is months after we moved in they were still in this house. We didn’t steal anything, not at all,” he said.
Ricci says his most prized guitar, a black bass with the Jack Daniels logo printed on the body, has yet to be recovered.
Giving up on the dream
Ricci says without rent coming in from the Sault house and unable to sell it until it is vacant, they are stretched to the max financially. Without any other options, the couple has put their dream house on the lake on the market.
“For all intents and purposes, we are going back to Toronto. We’re done. We have had it. It’s all too much,” said Ricci. “It has almost broken us, we are a thread from broken.”
Scheiber said she is also frustrated by her time in the Sault.
“We didn’t steal nothing, we haven’t done nothing wrong," she said. "We have been living here for two years and we have gotten nothing but crap from the people in Sault Ste. Marie, all of them. We have gotten nothing but crap. We are a family of four who, all we were trying to do is start a new life as a family of four. And all we have done is gotten a stick shoved up our ass and danced around like puppets and we can’t do nothing about it because we don’t have nobody to help us."