Woman pleads guilty to defrauding Chetwynd Women’s Resource Society

Mike Carter, Chetwynd Echo
 
CHETWYND – Former Chetwynd Women’s Resource Society Executive Director Lonnie Llewellyn pleaded guilty Feb. 7 in Vancouver Provincial Court to one count of fraud over $5,000.
As a result of the fraud, the Chetwynd Women’s Resource Society (CWRS) lost its government funding and was forced to close its doors in January 2012. Llewellyn took $32,240 from the organization by changing 17 of her pay cheques to read $1,600 instead of $600, taking petty cash from different businesses that the resource society dealt with and pocketing money  belonging to the organization.
 
According to court documents forwarded to the Chetwynd Echo by CBC reporter Jason Proctor, a Counselor with the CWRS said in a statement to the RCMP that Llewellyn would make the paychecks out and have them signed by two board members with signing authority before changing the amount to read more than double what she was owed.
 
Llewellyn was hired in April 2010 as Executive Director, and was tasked a month later with completing an audit of the Society’s books for the Ministry of Child and Family Development, who had provided the resource society with funding. 
 
At that time, Llewellyn spoke of turning the CRWS’s Marketplace project around.
 
The project, which was made up of a dozen or so kiosks including a used bookstore, an ice cream shop, hair salon, gift shop and nail salon, falls under the category of Social Enterprise, generating revenue for the Society through rent collection. The Marketplace had been struggling financially when Llewellyn took over. After planning  summer events such as an all night movie night and golf tournament, she claimed the financial situation of the Marketplace was “getting better”. “What I am trying to achieve is to make this more of a community minded place,” she said when taking over in 2010.
 
A year later, Lindsey Sprague was hired by the CRWS to complete the audit Llewellyn had failed to do. With the help of a CWRS counselor and board member who volunteered their time to assist with the audit a series of unaccounted for withdrawals from the resource society’s coffers were discovered in September 2011 and were identified to have taken place between June 2010 and May 2011.
 
Sprague advised the Society’s Board of Trustees immediately and continued the audit of the books, later learning that Llewellyn had taken petty cash in addition to altering her pay cheques.
 
According to court documents, Sprague, who had been friends with Llewellyn, called her after she made the discovery. Llewellyn began to cry and confessed that she had taken the money, that she did not keep track of how much was actually taken and that it was a compulsion she wanted to seek therapy for. Original estimates pegged the loss at $16,000 but was later found to be in excess of $30,000.
 
Board members called and threatened legal action against Llewellyn for theft, at which time she left to Vancouver with all the books, a laptop computer and other office supplies. 
The RCMP learned in Jan. 2012 that Llewellyn was the only person handling the books for the Society during the period in question and was asked by the board members on several occasions to bring in updates of her findings when working on the audit.The investigation revealed Llewellyn often had excuses for not having the updates prepared, saying she had left them at home. Other times, she produced a spreadsheet to the board for review that provided little information, according to statements made to police. “This was a huge, huge part of the community – and then just gone in the blink of an eye,” Sprague told the CBC. “It was terrible.”
 
Members of Llewellyn’s family approached police in Jan. 2012, stating that they were aware of the theft from the CWRS. The witness who came forward said she had personally observed Llewellyn pocket money belonging to the Society that was on her desk.
 
Investigators and the witness also suspected that Llewellyn had raised the rent on kiosks in the Marketplace without the knowledge of the board members and had pocketed the extra cash.
 
This is the second time Llewellyn had taken money from a non-profit organization in Chetwynd. The RCMP investigated Llewellyn in Nov. 2009 for defrauding the Peace Christian School of over $40,000. School Board trustees entered into a civil agreement with Llewellyn. Following this, the majority of the money was paid back and no criminal charges were laid.
 
Sprague said that Llewellyn’s actions had cost people their jobs, caused a loss of trust with the community who donated money to help people who required assistance and resulted in a loss of the funding from the government that supported the CWRS. The Chetwynd Women’s Resource Society provided women and children with practical assistance in areas of education, advocacy, intervention, prevention and counselling while offering information on their rights in relation to social issues. Sentencing is scheduled for April.