< Brantford accountant, Donna Cornwell, found liable for internal accounting fraud - Canadian Fraud News Inc. | Fraud related news | Fraud in Canada

Brantford accountant, Donna Cornwell, found liable for internal accounting fraud

March 1, 2021 – Donna Cornwell, a former accountant for Villa Olympic, a manufacturing and distribution of heating ventilation and air conditioning products business in Brantford, Ont., has been found liable by an Ontario Court of defrauding her former employer of $641,241.43.

A factum (a written argument or brief filed with the court and used by a lawyer to argue a motion or case before a judge) filed in November 2020 set out the facts upon which the Court issued the judgment. Cornwell did not contest the judgment. 

Cornwell’s employment

In November 2013, Cornwell responded to a posting on Indeed.com seeking a bookkeeper/office manager by Villa Olympic Inc., a Brantford business created in 1999 by Masoud Mafi. Villa Olympic creates ventilation and air movement products for the barbeque grill industry. 

On Nov. 3, 2013, Cornwell responded to the post, describing herself as “hard-working, professional and highly organized.” In her resume, Cornwell wrote she had a bookkeeping designation from Mohawk College. She wrote that she had also previously worked at Pride of Paris as a Junior Accountant and at Mt. Pleasant Overhead Door as a bookkeeper. 

From 2000 to 2013, Cornwell listed employment with Brant County Welding & Service—her husband, Jamie Frederick Cornwell’s business—as a bookkeeper, but did not disclose any other prior jobs.

In March 2014, following an interview meeting with Mafi, Cornwell began working for the company. All agreements were made verbally; no formal agreement was signed. She was tasked with monitoring Mafi’s accounts and issuing invoices. She was entrusted with accounts payable by recording the necessary payments to suppliers of Mafi, including requisitioning corporate cheques. 

In the court document, Mafi maintained his company’s policy that his sole signature was required on all corporate cheque payments. He also said Cornwell was not given authority to deal with his online banking. 

She worked for the business for a total of five years (March 2014 to March 2019), at the end of which she was earning a salary of about $47,000. 

A Civil Case

In February 2019, Mafi discovered a suspicious January payment to Walmart Canada Bank. He said he asked Cornwell about it. She “appeared to be very uncomfortable with the conversation” and later told him the bank confirmed they had made a mistake. 

When he followed up with his bank, he said he was provided a February cheque that had been deposited into his account from the personal account of Cornwell and her husband. Cornwell’s employment was then terminated. Mafi said she never inquired as to why she was terminated, asked for her final paycheque or for any termination documents. 

Soon after, Mafi also discovered that Cornwell had been forging his signature on numerous cheques out of his corporate accounts—some to Walmart and others to Cornwell personally—and that she was using the Walmart credit card to pay for her husband’s business expenses.

Another discovery

Following Donna Cornwell’s termination and the initial discovery, Mafi retained the

forensic accounting services of BDO Canada forensic accountants. As a result of the BDO investigation, Mafi learned that his company had incurred a loss of about $650,000.

In March, he filed a motion for a Mareva injunction and ancillary relief, which required an immediate examination of Cornwell to find out what happened to the Mafi’s funds. The Mareva injunction required a sworn declaration from Cornwell of her worldwide assets.

During service of the Mareva injunction Order, Cornwell’s husband (Jamie Cornwell) made comments that Corwell had been fired for committing a similar fraud against a previous employer. In that case, the settlement was for approximately $350,000. The former employer was not listed on her resume when she applied for employment with Villa Olympic. 

Her husband also testified that some of the expenses of the Cornwell family farm and his welding business have been paid by the Walmart credit card. He also noted that the family farm was transferred into their son Adam’s name after the first fraud on her former employer in order to finance the settlement with the employer to delay creditors. He said Cornwell took a mortgage out on the farm, which, by that time, had been transferred to Adam.

Villa Olympic’s evidence remains wholly uncontroverted and is uncontested. Because Cornwell also manipulated the data in the Plaintiff’s Quickbooks programs to mask her fraudulent conduct, the full extent of the economic impact on Mafi and Villa Olympic is not yet fully known. Cornwell has alleged that she spent the funds on “living expenses”. 

No Criminal Complaint Filed

Norman Groot, a senior lawyer from the fraud recovery law firm Investigative Counsel PC, who are representing Mafi and his company Villa Olympic, have advised Canadian Fraud News that a decision was made not to file a criminal complaint until the civil recovery process is exhausted. 

“Rogues can apply to a court to use a victim’s money to defend a criminal prosecution–and Canada’s Charter of Rightsdoes not assist victims of fraud–only the cons.” Groot said. “There is no limitation period on filing a criminal complaint. There is no right to silence in the civil law system. We typically investigate to the point where the cops simply need to validate. This often assists the police, as a significant problem in the criminal justice system is often referred to as “Jordan”, where criminal prosecutions get stayed because it infringed some rogue’s right to a speedy trial. Canada’s Charter litigation is imbalanced and it does not give victims a right to a speedy recovery.”

He said Canadian criminal restitution orders and criminal forfeiture orders are “more fiction than substance”. 

“Too often, Canadian criminal cases are dismissed for reasons having nothing to do with the victims,” said Groot. “Even if the criminal system does result in a conviction and a restitution order is issued, the Canadian criminal system does not enforce it. A victim has to hire a civil lawyer to use it to seek recovery.”

He also said another issue for fraud victims to consider is that civil actions have to be commenced within two years from discovering the loss. 

“Too often criminal cases take far longer than two years and then fail,” he said. “If a civil case isn’t started before the criminal case fails, the victim is left without any access to justice. Victims are better off to sue first, see if a recovery can be made, and then decide whether or not to file a criminal complaint.” 

Groot also encourages anyone with information on assets and spending of Donna Cornwell to confidentially contact D. Slenys of his firm at dslenys@investigationcounsel.com .

The investigation is ongoing. More to come.

Related: Debra Penttila denied appeal of fraud sentence