From Rural Delivery Magazine, March 2002 continued:
The Agency pointed out the time to begin repayment was at hand. But documents reveal this was a problem for the company. Within days ACOA received a request from the company to change its repayment schedule. The requested changes are unclear because ACOA officials chose to sever the document, meaning ACOA would not release the reasons for the requested amendments nor would they release the new repayment schedule. But by October 18, documents show that ACOA account manager John Beeston complied with the company’s request and amended the amount it was required to pay each month.
Signs of Trouble
An internal ACOA e-mail from Simon d’Entremont to Beeston dated April 17, 2000, provides the first sign that La Ferme d’ Acadie was facing serious problems. D’Entremont wrote: “I spoke to Charles Leary this morning. I’ve asked for current financials. After I see them, I’ll be going over to visit the site and discuss his problems with him. I’ll let you know what I come up with.”
On May 5, d’Entremont drove to Chebogue Point for the scheduled meeting. But company officials did not show up. Instead, d’Entremont found an apparently abandoned property with a for sale sign posted on it. Just 11 months after opening their doors and after federal investments and tax credits totaling more than $150,000, La Ferme d’ Acadie was effectively out of business.
In the beginning
Local goat milk suppliers jumped at an opportunity to expand their fledgling industry. Many invested in equipment and expanded their milking stock. Some took out loans to cover their costs. But suppliers and company officials told Rural Delivery that disagreements over milk trucking costs and milk quality created an acrimonious relationship not long after the plant opened.
Among the suppliers of goat’s milk to La Ferme d’ Acadie were Jonathan Lee and Peyton Leavitt, a couple who had moved from British Columbia to Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley in 1995. They contacted Perret and Leary after reading about the creamery.
In January, 1999, Lee and Leavitt received a letter from Leary indicating that the cheese-making facility would be in operation that May, and offering to purchase the couple’s milk production from up to 200 goats in the first year. La Ferme d’ Acadie loaned a few thousand dollars to Lee and Leavitt to help them begin production.
That June Lee and Leavitt also obtained a loan of $25,000 from Annapolis Ventures Limited, an ACOA-funded business development agency based in Bridgetown. They built and equipped a milking facility on their farm, and increased their goat herd with new breeding stock.
Lee and Leavitt supplied milk through the summer of 1999, but the next year they made only a few shipments before their relationship with the American entrepreneurs began to fall apart. With deductions from their milk cheques to pay off the loan from La Ferme d’ Acadie, and disputes related to milk quality and volume, the couple found it uneconomical to continue as suppliers.
Folks are we beginning to see a pattern of how the girls conduct business? Just as with that bogus lawsuit filed by Danny Abel and Deonne DuBarry involving Charles Leary, Condalary v Campbell, shafting suppliers is part of their business MO. The hard luck stories from locals unfortunate enough to try to conduct business with Leary, Perret and Abel were evidently very easy for Rural Delivery to find as we continue:
Cheryl and Randy Hiltz also bought into the optimism surrounding the little cheese-making venture at Chebogue Point. The Aylesford husband and wife team signed a contract with the American partners on Aug. 10,1999, and expanded their milking stock. But by the following year company officials began requiring the couple to pay for shipping costs. They stopped producing for the cheese plant and in May of 1999 sold 50 dairy goats to a Quebec farmer.
“It’s enough to look after your animals and milk them without getting involved in shipping,” said Randy.
“We’d be almost giving them the milk for free,” added Cheryl. “We couldn’t do that, so that’s when we stopped.”
The couple said they felt their contract may have been breached, but they had little interest in taking legal action. “We didn’t have the time and energy to go that avenue,” said Randy.
La Ferme d’ Acadie briefly received goat’s milk from Garnet and Andrea Dalton of Beaver River, north of Yarmouth near the Digby County line. This arrangement also ended with disagreements between supplier and processor. The Daltons refuse to speak to the media about the episode, except to say that the sale of all their goats did not cover investments they had made to produce milk for the cheese plant.
In a July, 26, letter to Farm Focus, Leary wrote that the suppliers were often providing substandard goat milk. He also said contracts with suppliers allowed the company to change its practice regarding charging the suppliers for hauling milk.
The impact of the company’s failed deals with suppliers and later collapse was devastating for Nova Scotia’s fledging goat milk industry. But not a single ACOA document suggests Agency concern in these areas.
Whatever the reason, it’s clearACOA was one of the last to know that a company it had financed had shut down.
ACOA officials scrambled throughout the summer of 2000 to find out what was going on. A July 27, 2000 letter to the company requests a copy of the its financial statements for the year ending December 31, 1999. This letter revealed ACOA had little or no idea of the financial viability of the company more than a year after handing it more than $100,000.
A letter from Beeston on August 24 to Leary makes it clear ACOA officials were having trouble arranging an audit of the company’s books. “Our Payments Department have (sic) been trying for some time to perform their post payment audit. Could you please contact Charles Yochoff (ACOA auditor) or (myself) to arrange this as soon as possible.”
Yochoff later writes Leary explaining the nature of the audit. “For your information the audit generally consists of examination of original invoices, negotiated cheques, tracking these items into the contractors records, and conducting a plant tour.” It’s clear ACOA wanted to discover whether the money it paid La Ferme I’Acadie was spent where it was supposed to be spent. They also wanted to see for themselves whether the plant they invested so heavily in was actually operating.
Records show that Agency officials became increasingly frustrated with Leary. On September 8, 2000, Stuart MacDonald, ACOA’s director of programs, writes to Leary saying: “Despite repeated attempts by Mr. Yochoff and Mr. Prime, we have been unsuccessful in our attempts to arrange for an audit of your final claim.” MacDonald writes that if the audit was not conducted by September 30, 2000, “the full amount of the outstanding contribution will become due and payable immediately.”
After several letters and phone calls Beeston was finally able to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Leary on July 4, 2000 I. It took place not at the Chebogue Point cheese plant, but rather at Leary’s new business, a tourist lodge in East Kemptville.
Stay tuned for Part 3 tomorrow.
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