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Kelowna winery says accountant took almost a half-million dollars

Image Credit: PEXELS

The owners of a Kelowna winery and golf course allege their former controller took nearly $450,000 in just 30 months on the job.

The Turton Group, which owns The View winery as well as Orchard Greens golf course and a rental business, is suing Debra Anne Saywell to recover its funds, but are being hotly contested in court.

Saywell had her accounts frozen Aug. 3, 2023 to try to ensure any money left wasn’t spent but that order was made without Saywell’s input. Last week, Justice Hugh Veenstra heard her arguments on why her accounts should be unfrozen but opted to maintain it to protect potential assets should Turton Group win at trial.

It didn’t go well for Saywell.

Saywell was hired in November 2020, replacing a long-term employee in that position who found another job. Turton Group said Saywell did the books for all three companies and was in a unique position. The specifics of the job meant she was the only one who could make transactions through the accounts to pay bills and expenses. Two of the principals of the company, Jennifer Turton-Molgat and Cindy Turton, said they didn’t even know how to use the financial system they employed.

Yearly accounting audits didn’t uncover the missing money but Turton Group instead was alerted by Quickbooks in June 2023. According to the decision, Saywell was suspended almost a month later, then fired. That’s when the full audit uncovered the company’s losses.

Turton Group said $359,332.17 was transferred from company accounts directly to Saywell’s credit card account. It produced evidence which it says proves Saywell disguised her transactions by producing phoney invoices from vendors and suppliers. The Group alleges she also bought herself a storage container ($5,699) and a shelter ($3,225) which were delivered to a property where Saywell keeps her horses.

In her attempts to get her accounts unfrozen, Saywell told Veenstra she didn’t deny receiving the funds, but said it was for reimbursement of various expenses, plus payment for overtime hours, which would have been roughly $15,000 per month for a position paid $60,000 to $65,000 per year. Saywell also said she was not aware of many of the accounting systems in place and was not the only one using the accounting system.

Turton group denied they had any arrangement for reimbursement for overtime.

Veentra did not make any assessment of the case, nor determine fault. The April 12, 2024 decision simply reaffirmed, in the face of Saywell’s arguments, that the accounts will remain frozen until the case is resolved.

That includes Saywell’s bank and credit card accounts, as well as an account at a local credit union she shared with her son, which Turton Group says received nearly $83,000 from its accounts.

Veenstra noted that the injunction was necessary because of the “significant amount that was paid to the defendant. In this case, there was no evidence as to the assets that might be available should the plaintiff obtain and ultimately seek to recover on a judgment, and the amount of the claim is beyond the ability of many individuals to pay. In my view, the potential prejudice to the plaintiff if it successfully advances a claim of this nature through trial and finds nothing left to recover is the kind of significant prejudice that (asset freezing) orders are intended to address.”

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