Former bookkeeper testifies at fraud trial

By Susan Gamble, Brantford Expositor

As the Christina and Luigi Imola fraud trial resumed on Tuesday, a former part-time bookkeeper at Ball Media testified that one of the reasons she left her job there was because the financial systems were concerning her.

"I was getting busier in my own business and they were converting to software I didn't know, but on top of that," said Laurette Caron, "there were (Imola's) bonuses and not paying taxes, CPP or IE (on them). That didn't sit right with me. It's not how I would do business."

Christina Imola, known as Paige, who was the financial officer for the media company, was charged in 2012, along with her husband, with fraud over $5,000 and possession of the proceeds of crime in connection with more than $500,000 stolen from Ball Media from 2007 to 2012. The couple has pleaded not guilty.

According to the Crown, Paige Imola wrote dozens of extra cheques to herself and both the Imolas used company credit cards for thousands in personal purchases.

Caron said that she reported directly to Imola.

She initially became concerned because Imola was putting through hefty bonuses to herself which, she told Caron, were for extra work she had done to negotiate deals for Ball Media through government programs and reducing payables.

"She said the bonuses were percentage from all of those and that (company president) John (Ball) had agreed."

But Caron said the bonuses didn't have Canada Pension or unemployment payments taken off and that wasn't "proper bookkeeping process." Imola told her Ball was opting to hold back those funds for other uses and pay the government later.

When Caron finally got Imola to set up a personal loan account within the company books where her bonuses and personal credit card purchases were recorded, the bookkeeper had to press Imola to try and bring down the high outstanding balance before the year-end.

"She asked me to pay her for $30,000 in personal payments she made for Ball Media and said she would bring in the bills. I kept asking for them but never got them. She wanted me to do it again in January 2012 - to take $30,000 out of the account for more expenses and I said 'I still don't have receipts for the first $30,000.'"

There were other things that the part-time bookkeeper noticed.

When she visited Imola at home she noticed her chairs were the same ones as had been purchased for the office. She also testified that Imola's lunches got progressively longer.

At one point when Caron tried to update the accounting software on the president's computer, she discovered it wasn't even operating on his system. He told her it hadn't worked for a while.

Assistant Crown attorney Larry Brock previously introduced evidence that Imola's son had been put on the payroll despite being a teenager and, later, going to university and holding down jobs.

On Tuesday, Brock showed Caron a record of Zachary Imola's employment history at the company from 2008 to 2011, although Caron said she only saw him a few times, usually picking up his mother.

"The reason for leaving on this form is 'lack of work'," said Brock, noting the form was signed by Laurette Caron, Human Resources.

"I didn't fill it out," said Caron. "I wasn't human resources and I've never seen this before."

Caron said she didn't look at the paycheques that were issued to Ball employees and thus didn't see how much Imola was making but, when doing bank reconciliations, the bookkeeper often found cheques made out to Imola that hadn't been entered into the system.

"I never told John. I was told to deal with Paige. On several occasions she told me not to talk to John because he was going through personal problems or, in 2011 when his mother was ill and passed away, because he was distraught."

Imola, who is representing herself, began the cross-examination of Caron in the afternoon and will continue on Wednesday.

Along with the fraud trial, the Imolas have been dealing with other issues.

Paige Imola has pleaded not guilty for breaching bail conditions and a trial was held over two days in December before running out of time and being put over until May 2.

Luigi Imola has pleaded not guilty to charges of intimidating a witness. Before a judge on Dec. 16, he elected to waive a preliminary trial and have the matter brought to Superior Court for a full trial.

The couple is also in the midst of a civil suit launched by John Ball and a wrongful dismissal suit by Paige Imola against Ball Media.