In this 2009 file photo, a line of Holstein dairy cows feed through a fence at a dairy farm outside Jerome.
WENDELL — A dairy in the midst of shutting down has filed a lawsuit against its bookkeeper, claiming she embezzled more than $700,000 from the company.
In addition to the possible civil penalties in Jerome County, Stephanie Diane Wells, 34, has been criminally charged in Gooding County with 19 felony counts of grand theft.
According to an affidavit for Wells’ arrest, the owner of Box Canyon Dairy in Wendell told the Gooding County Sheriff’s Office that he suspected his bookkeeper of embezzling money from the dairy. He had found a $10,000 Box Canyon check made out to a construction company. When he called, the company said the check was to pay for work done at Wells’ home in Jerome, court documents state.
Court records also detail 19 transactions signed by Wells for payments made to a Discover credit card in Wells’ name. The payments from the dairy’s account to Discover between December 2015 and August 2018 totaled $461,586.
The owner told a detective he would sign blank checks for Wells to pay the company’s invoices. Wells supposedly altered transactions in QuickBooks to show the money was sent to pay bills for Box Canyon.
The dairy previously loaned Wells $175,000 to purchase a home in July 2017. She was supposed to be making payments to reimburse the dairy account.
“It appears to me that Stephanie used funds intended for Box Canyon to appear that she had made a $22,000 payment on her loan,” a Gooding County Sheriff’s Office detective said in her report.
Gooding County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Pember said the sheriff’s office found another check to Discover besides the 19 listed, but that check was not in subpoenaed documents because it was outside of the timeframe specified. More charges could be added depending on more investigations, he said.
Wells is scheduled to be arraigned on Monday. She was not been arrested based on assurances from her lawyer that she would appear in court, Pember said.
In the civil case in Jerome County, Wells is being sued along with her husband, Dustin Jade Wells, and “John Does 1 through 10, unknown persons.”
The suit alleges Stephanie and her husband wrongfully took $708,944 from the dairy, primarily to pay off credit card debt. It alleges she forged signatures of dairy principals on checks and manipulated and falsified financial records. Some money is believed to have been deposited into accounts held by Wells, her husband or “John Doe.”
The lawsuit claims fraud totals of $903,944, of which $161,478 has been repaid. Combined with money owed to the dairy from a loan, the outstanding balance is calculated as $742,466.
Box Canyon Dairy seeks relief with interest, as well as other damages to be proven in court during a jury trial.
Box Canyon Dairy in Wendell was formed in 2011 but was previously owned by Aardema-Heida Dairy. The dairy’s attorneys said in the lawsuit that it is in the “process of winding down its business operations.” The Capital Press reported in December 2018 that the dairy lost its market and had to sell off its herd as all other processors were full.
Attorneys for Box Canyon Dairy told the Times-News on Thursday they did not wish to provide further comment. Wells’ attorney has not responded to a request for comment.
Wells was hired as Box Canyon Dairy’s chief financial officer and internal accountant in August 2012. Court documents state she voluntarily left the dairy on Jan. 31 as the company was winding down its business operations. She was not paid for January 2019 because of the money owed through her loan.
“BCD [Box Canyon Dairy] disputes any and all payments for services rendered in the month of January 2019 as it is believed by BCD that Stephanie was at this point solely attempting to actively conceal her fraudulent activities as described herein,” the complaint states.
A status conference for the civil case is scheduled for June 3.