The owner of a Mount Pearl contracting company who had a once-faithful, longtime employee defraud him of $70,000 has some advice for other small business owners.
“Don’t give total reign of your company to anybody,” Michael Whelan, owner of Backyard Contractors, told reporters Thursday outside provincial court in St. John’s. “Do (regular) checks and ask questions.”
He learned the hard way.
Whelan said he was shocked to learn that Leah Chaulk — a woman who he trusted to manage his company’s accounts, payroll and banking for over a decade — was using his company credit card for her personal gain.
Chaulk made personal purchases that included liquor, an iPhone, a snowblower and a generator. She also over-collected her vacation pay.
She let her husband use the company’s credit card, too. Chaulk and her husband also used the company’s gas card from 2005 to 2016 to put gas in their personal vehicle, collecting Air Miles and reward points for themselves.
Whelan said he first suspected something was going on in December 2015 when he noticed company deposits weren’t being made to the bank. He tracked Chaulk’s actions for months before he went to police.
“You place a lot of trust (in her) and you’re working side by side for 15 or 16 years...,” said Whelan, adding that the frauds were a big hit to his company.
“Your trust is tarnished. … It’s a job to place trust in anyone after working with someone for 15 ½ years and they turn around and do this to you.”
Shortly before Whelan spoke to reporters, Chaulk — who had pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud over $5,000 — was given a 16-month conditional sentence, with two years’ probation. Judge Colin Flynn — who went along with lawyers’ joint suggestion on sentencing — also made a restitution order for Chaulk to pay back the $70,000.
The judge noted the importance of stopping people from using small businesses as “an ATM.”
When asked what he thought about the sentence, Whelan said it was more important that the case got public attention. He hopes it will help other small businesses avoid what happened to him.
“It’s good to see it over,” said Whelan, adding that he has made many internal changes to help prevent any similar crimes in the future.
“There was a lot of wasted time and money for the company that (we’re) not going to recoup.”