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Supreme Court rules sloppy bookkeeping of Corner Brook business was not fraud, false pretenses

Justice scales courtroom - Stock
Justice scales courtroom - Stock - 123RF Stock Photo

Dean Joyce is glad he never took a plea bargain he says was offered to him.

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In 2011, the Corner Brook businessman was charged with nine offences related to a business deal that went off the rails.

The charges included fraud over $5,000 and false pretences over $5,000.

He was committed to stand trial, entered not guilty pleas and endured an eight-day trial this past fall.

In an interview Friday, Joyce said the Crown had initially offered to withdraw all other charges if he had entered guilty pleas to two, but he opted to go to trial.

Earlier this week, Justice Vikas Khaladkar of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador acquitted Joyce of two remaining charges — single counts of fraud and false pretenses — after the Crown had withdrawn seven of the original counts.

While he’s won the case, he still has a sense of loss in many ways.

“This has taken a toll on me and my family,” he said. “I had a pretty big business and now I’ve lost that and my name has been dragged through the mud.

"It’s been hard on me and my family financially and I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.”

The charges were filed following complaints from Joyce’s business partners about finances related to the arrangement they had in place. Joyce and his company, SLJ Developments Ltd., found trouble in 2010 after purchasing a quantity of reinforced structural steel and excavator and loader attachments he had hoped to sell to the construction industry.

Unexpected snowfall hampered his ability to sell the products and he ended up making a deal with longtime family friends, Darrell Bennett and Glynn Pike, co-owners of Marie Contractors in Pasadena.

The three formed a new company, Rock Attachment Steel Inc., for the purposes of finding buyers for the items Joyce had.

The court heard the plan was that Joyce, as a 50 per cent owner of the newly formed entity, would get a 20 per cent commission from sales and would be reimbursed for expenses incurred.

The trouble began when Joyce continued to use his own company, SLJ Developments Ltd., to provide quotes to customers, as well as for invoicing and receiving payments.

He also had a habit of making notes of discussions with potential customers on invoice forms, which wound up being entered into the company’s financial records as accounts receivable. This made it seem like the company was making more sales than it actually was.

After his partners did not pay him any sales commissions and Joyce felt he was also still owed money for expenses he had claimed, he told his partners he would be withholding some cheques from sales deals that had been completed until things were straightened out.

Joyce argued that he needed to keep using his own company because it was the entity that was getting a good deal on buying rebar from a steel mill. He also said some of his potential customers were in direct competition with Marine Contractors and would not have bought anything from him if he knew he was affiliated with that company.

As for the inconsistent financial records that seemed inflated, Joyce said sometimes the final amount of a sale would change by the time the transaction was completed.

In the end, Khaladkar ruled mismanagement was fatal to the enterprise entered into by the three partners. Despite the sloppy bookkeeping, he found no deceit, falsehood or other dishonest act on Joyce’s behalf.

He ruled Joyce was likely owed as much as $324,000 and that not sharing a fraction of that, via cheques withheld from his partners, did not deprive his partners of something that belonged to them.

The judge likened what Joyce did to a lawyer enforcing a lien for unpaid accounts after coming into possession of monies belonging to that client.

Joyce said his legal battle against his former business partners is not done.

He said he intends to pursue compensation he feels is still owed to him by filing a civil lawsuit, though no statement of claim has yet been filed in that regard.

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