Taken to the cleaners

At the Small Claims Court in Brampton, Ontario W-FIVE found thirty lawsuits against Morrissey and various Countrywide companies dating back to 2002…"It seemed to me that this was a carefully orchestrated plan to zone in on the most vulnerable in the society and then go in for the kill."

W-FIVE
October 27, 2007

Taken to the cleaners

CountrywideCleaners.jpg

Thomas Morrissey of Countrywide

Many newcomers to Canada arrive with a small amount of savings and hopes of a better life in Canada, often with dreams of finding success through their own business. But it doesn't always turn out that way - those dreams and unquestioning trust in Canada leaves some ripe to be taken advantage of.

Doug Adams, a Toronto resident and recent immigrant from Ghana is one of the victims.

Milka Tegovski signed on as a partner with Countrywide Maintenance Systems, hoping to have her own business in her retirement.

Many newcomers to Canada arrive with a small amount of savings and hopes of a better life in Canada, often with dreams of finding success through their own business. But it doesn't always turn out that way - those dreams and unquestioning trust in Canada leaves some ripe to be taken advantage of.

Doug Adams, a Toronto resident and recent immigrant from Ghana is one of the victims. Adams picked up a copy of Employment News and an ad for a cleaning business caught his eye. "Be your own boss! Earn up to $10,000 per month." It was very tempting. The only catch? An investment was required.

"I believed in it and I knew, okay, now I'm going to have my own job," says Adams.

He called the number on the ad, made an appointment and met with Thomas Morrissey, a former Toronto Police officer and president of Countrywide Maintenance Systems.

The lure was simple, fast cash. Adams recalls Morrissey promising that he'd earn $2,500 a month, working cleaning contracts in commercial buildings. All it took was an up-front investment. In Adams case that amounted to $7,500 - his entire savings, plus money borrowed from a friend.

"At this point I knew I was signing, making a deal with the CEO of the company," says Adams.

The contract even promised Adams a money-back guarantee if no work came his way after 120 days. But after those120 days there was no work.

"(The) phone never rang," says Adams. "I was getting nervous. I was owing (money) at that point too. I just thought, 'This is not right.'"

That's when Adams demanded his money back. He recalls that Countrywide Maintenance Systems told him it would take six weeks. But as the weeks passed and Adams still had not received his refund, he called Morrissey. "That is when the story got a twist," he recalls.

Countrywide claimed they didn't owe Adams his money. A Countrywide partner company did. This was the first Adams had ever heard of a "partner". Morrissey had not only signed Adam's contract, he witnessed his own signature. And so began the Countrywide Maintenance Systems runaround. And Adams wasn't the only one to find himself chasing his money instead of his dreams.

Cleaners and investors
What Adams soon discovered was that Morrissey and his parent company were able to put the blame for no work on someone else.

Here's how it works: Would-be cleaners sign on with a Countrywide company and invest their money with Thomas Morrissey. Morrissey signs most of the contracts and assures them they have a money back guarantee. But Morrissey and his company are not parties to the contract - it is another Countrywide company. You see, Morrissey farms out the contracts to another layer of investors, so-called partners, who are supposed to be responsible for finding the actual cleaning jobs. When there is no work, Morrissey blames the partners and insists neither he nor his company,

Countrywide Maintenance Systems is liable contractually for the money-back guarantee.

Partners contacted by W-FIVE claim that the initial promises made to cleaners of how much work is available is impossible to guarantee.

Milka Tegovski signed on as a partner with Countrywide Maintenance Systems, hoping to have her own business in her retirement. She put $12,000 on a credit card to invest in Morrissey's company. When Tegovski couldn't find enough work for the cleaners, she was left high and dry and never saw a cent back on her investment. She told WFIVE that when she went to Morrissey to complain, "(He) made it sound that I wasn't working hard enough."

Tegovski currently works as a waitress to pay off her Countrywide Maintenance Systems debt. It's hardly the retirement she'd hoped for.

Tegovsky's and Adams' cases aren't unique. At the Small Claims Court in Brampton, Ontario W-FIVE found thirty lawsuits against Morrissey and various Countrywide companies dating back to 2002. Most investors have been unsuccessful before the courts and Morrissey denies he's done anything wrong.

Another cleaner, Ayodele Shoneyin told W-FIVE, "It seemed to me that this was a carefully orchestrated plan to zone in on the most vulnerable in the society and then go in for the kill."

The Morrissey pitch
W-FIVE sent producers with hidden cameras posing as interested partners to Countrywide Maintenance Systems to see what Morrissey was offering.

"Let me first of all say I know nothing about the cleaning business," Morrissey told them. "I've never seen a place cleaned. I wouldn't know how to price a building. I know absolutely zero about it."

Morrissey told them their priority was to find cleaners because that's where the money is. "I can sign a sub-contractor in something like three minutes and 10 seconds or something," he claimed.

Following the hidden-camera visit, W-FIVE requested a formal interview with Morrissey, and was told that he was no longer with the company. But documents obtained by W-FIVE show that he is the sole director and president of Countrywide Maintenance Systems.

A few days later, W-FIVE saw Morrissey at his office and later caught up with him in the parking lot at the Brampton Small Claims Court. W-FIVE reporter Victor Malarek asked Morrissey about his role in leaving so many people out-of-pocket.

"No comment," said Morrissey.

Where to turn
With very few successes in the courts and little money repaid, where can the would-be cleaners and partners turn?

W-FIVE set out to find what had happened with the claims and to find a government department responsible for helping victims of Countrywide Maintenance Systems.

Ontario's Ministry of Labour told us they were aware of Countrywide Maintenance Systems, but refused a request for an on-camera interview. Instead, W-FIVE was directed to the Ministry of Government Services who oversee Ontario's Franchise Act.

There a second Ontario government ministry also denied responsibility to help the out-of-luck investors. Refusing an on-camera interview, a spokesperson suggested W-FIVE turn to the federal government's Competition Bureau, which investigates business opportunity fraud.

W-FIVE had previously obtained a copy of one letter of complaint from a disgruntled Countrywide Maintenance Systems investor sent to the Competition Bureau. But the federal agency refused any comment, including whether or not any investigation was underway.

Meantime, dozens of new Canadians who invested with Morrissey have lost their entire life savings and are left seeking justice, their money back and a chance to get back their Canadian dreams for success.

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