Chamber director alleges harassment by former president

The proceedings involved claims of embezzlement, threats against children and claims of conspiracy.

Alleged threats and allegations of embezzlement were brought to light last week in a court hearing on an application for a peace bond.

Kendra Begg, executive director of the Boundary Country Regional Chamber of Commerce (BCRCC) went to court on Aug. 15 for a peace bond against Dean Engen, a former chamber president, after an encounter early this year that Begg testified caused her to fear for herself and children.

A peace bond is currently in place; Begg is seeking an added protective radius to the bond. Engen has denied threatening Begg, but took the peace bond to court in order to “clear his name” and expose what he alleges is embezzlement by a former chamber employee.

The court proceedings on Wednesday took in excess of three hours and the case has ultimately been given a continuance to Sept. 4. Engen subpoenaed numerous witnesses, including a handful of current chamber board members and two City of Grand Forks councillors.

The Claim

In court on Wednesday, Aug. 15 Begg sought a peace bond on the grounds of an alleged threat by Engen against her children on Feb. 18, 2018.

In her testimony, Begg recounted meeting Engen in a local grocery store while shopping with her four-year-old son and his friend.

Begg said in court it seemed that Engen went out of his way to run into her several times throughout the store and she had passing interactions with him, including saying hello to “maintain social niceties.” Begg testified she changed her shopping pattern to avoid further interaction, but coming out of an aisle was met by Engen a third time.

Begg testified Engen demanded a meeting between himself, Begg and a former BCRCC executive director, in the grocery store to “clear the air” about chamber business.

At this point, what had seemed a calm demeanor had changed, she said; Engen seemed aggressive and “postured.”

“’I heard there is a target on your daughter’s back,’” Begg testified Engen told her, before looking at her son, who was sitting in the shopping cart. “’I’d hate for something to happen to your son.’”

Begg was shaken, she testified, but asked Engen clearly if he was threatening her.

Begg testified that Engen then said, “’I don’t make threats, I make promises.’”

Begg said she called the RCMP the following Monday morning as she could not reach RCMP at the non-emergency line over the weekend. An officer took a statement from her on Feb. 22, a copy of which was viewed by the Gazette.

History

Crown counsel asked Begg numerous questions speaking to the history of her interactions with Engen over the period leading to the interaction on Feb. 18.

Though the Feb. 18 incident was the basis for the peace bond, Begg said there had been other tense interactions with Engen since he left the chamber in June 2017. In her testimony, Begg spoke to an incident of vandalism nearly two weeks before, on the morning of Jan. 30, that made Engen’s reference to a “target” upsetting.

On Jan. 29, 2018, the chamber held a general meeting for its membership in order to make changes to the chamber’s bylaws. Following the luncheon meeting, Begg attended a council budget workshop to speak to the chamber’s annual fee for service request.

The reporter for the Gazette attended both the luncheon meeting and the budget workshop that afternoon.

Begg testified the workshop took longer than anticipated and she did not return to the chamber office (then located at 135 Market Avenue, through a side entrance) that day.

Begg testified that the following morning, Jan. 30 she arrived at her office before due to attend a meeting to find vandalism – feces had been smeared over the door to her office, loosely in a small circle contained within a larger circle.

Begg testified that, figuring it was not of significance because the door is in a public area, she began to clean without taking a photo or otherwise documenting the mess.

“That was a mistake,” she said in court Wednesday.

Begg testified that as she cleaned, under the smaller inner circle, she found a photo of her daughter, age 6, on the door and covered in feces.

In her testimony, Begg said the photo was clearly recent and taken while her daughter was at school, evident from both the new snowsuit she was wearing, as well as the fence and snow visible in the photo.

Begg testified that she threw the material away, and rushed to her meeting. There, Begg said she broke down into tears and explained in general terms what had happened.

“I was in shock, I was hurt, I was afraid,” Begg said. Begg said she didn’t mention the circular, “target-like” formation of the feces.

Two weeks later in the grocery store, Begg testified the reference to a target that Engen made reminded her of that incident. Begg testified in cross examination there was no proof of the incident or the perpetrator.

Engen’s Cross Exam

In his opening statements to the court, Engen, who represented himself in the proceedings, said he intended to prove there was a “clear cover-up” of embezzlement by a former BCRCC executive director, and Begg’s continued cover-up of the embezzlement in order to protect her job.

Engen alleged the chamber is “massively” in debt, that Begg had a history of undisclosed mental illness, and the allegations she made were a “smear campaign” to discredit him and his allegations.

At various points in the proceeding, he makes refernece to a sum of $35,000 that he alleges the former employee stole from the chamber and references a trip to Ottawa he alleges the employee took on the chamber’s dime with his family.

Engen’s focus in court included the nature of Begg’s relationship with the former executive director, whether they had ever lived in Kelowna at the same time and whether Begg’s husband had ever worked with him.

Engen acknowledged speaking with Begg in the grocery store, but disputed her testimony regarding his mood. Engen said he was accompanied by his son and was at the store following church.

Crown counsel, Julian Dudley, and Judge Robert Brown both questioned the relevance of several of Engen’s lines of questioning. The judge ruled against lines of questioning repeatedly, including lines of questioning about embezzlement or the chamber.

“I need you to understand, this is not about Kendra Begg,” Engen said. “It is about my credibility.”

He said Begg’s accusation was an act of vengeance for all the “crazy” and “unbelievable” things he uncovered as the chamber president. Engen said that in trying to bring these issues to light he was doing his due diligence. Engen also maintained he did not resign from the chamber board.

Engen called into evidence Julia Butler. Butler appeared in court as a private citizen, but is well-known in Grand Forks in her capacity as a city councillor. The judge questioned the relevance of much of her testimony.

“I’m not trying to be harsh,” Judge Brown said. “But trying to focus on why are we here?”

“I’m trying to clear my name,” Engen said.

During the proceeding, Engen referred to himself as a whistleblower, and said he was trying to prove the embezzlement the chamber wanted covered up.

“She is trying to prevent the truth from getting out,” Engen said in court.

Both Butler and Engen declined to provide further comment for this story citing the ongoing court case.

Allegations of embezzlement

In an interview with the Gazette, the former employee accused of embezzlement by Engen said while he was the executive director of the BCRCC, the chamber’s bookkeeping was done by Community Futures as the chamber was under its umbrella at the time.

The chair of the Community Futures Boundary board confirmed the organization undergoes a third party audit every year.

Chamber budgets viewed by the Gazette dating to 2012 show no obvious indication of financial wrongdoing. Engen has previously declined to provide the Gazette with any documentation to support his claims against this former employee and the chamber.

The Gazette will not be publishing the name of the former employee because allegations of financial wrongdoing are unsubstantiated at this time.

“Whether [Engen] is right or wrong is irrelevant here,” Dudley said. He maintained the only relevant testimony dealt with the Feb. 18 incident in the grocery store and whether Begg had reasonable grounds to fear for the safety of herself and family.

“This is not the forum to deal with these issues,” Dudley said.

Engen maintained throughout the proceedings the incident did not happen and that “not for a second would I consider harming her.”

The Peace Bond

Begg said in an interview with the Gazette that following the incident and her police report, she went through the process to obtain a peace bond against Engen. She was successful in early April.

By appearing in court, Crown counsel sought to add a protective radius (distance) to the peace bond. Begg said the peace bond currently only specifies that Engen must not have direct or indirect contact with her, her immediate family and her workplace.

Begg alleged in an interview with the Gazette Engen has broken the bond on as many as five occasions, though RCMP declined to recommend charges each time.

Future Court Proceedings

Judge Brown ordered a continuance until Sept. 4 as court neared the end of the business day, and to give Engen the opportunity to seek legal counsel. Engen will continue to be bound by the existing peace bond in the interim.

In response to Engen’s question about the clarity of the peace bond, Crown counsel offered to provide Engen with a list of conditions.

“A lawyer can explain to you the nature of these proceedings,” Brown said.

BCRCC President Cathy Korolek said in an interview the court proceeding was clearly a personal issue, but the board supported Begg completely.

When reached for comment, Grand Forks Mayor Frank Konrad said the city is not involved. Konrad said two councillors had been informally advised to distance themselves from anything that could reflect badly on the city on more than one occasion.

“The corporation is not involved. This is a personal matter, it has nothing to do with the city and nothing to do with the chamber,” he said, acknowledging the city’s role as the chamber’s main source of funding. “We are not getting sucked in.”

Engen subpoenaed several other chamber board members on Wednesday; Judge Brown cited the five additional witnesses scheduled to appear as a factor in the continuance.

Though the chamber considers it a personal matter, Korolek said board members did seek legal advice on the issue.

Engen is set to appear in court again on Sept. 4.

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