Suit Claims Employee Stole Funds

The owner of the North Country Smokehouse has filed a lawsuit against the company’s longtime office manager, accusing her of stealing more than $600,000 from his Claremont business since 2005 and using the money to buy luxury vehicles, snowmobiles and expensive jewelry.

In filings in Sullivan County Superior Court, Mike Satzow accused Bonnie Johnson, whom he says he trusted with his company’s finances, of writing checks to herself and buying personal items with the company’s credit card.

Bank records show that Johnson took more than $16,000 in 2005, and increased the amount every year, culminating in 2012, when she wrote checks to herself every other week for $4,000, for a total of $124,000, according to the lawsuit.

Johnson had worked for 21 years for the family-owned North Country Smokehouse, which sells artisanal smoked meats and cheeses from their Claremont facility throughout the country.

Both state and federal authorities are investigating Johnson and are contemplating filing criminal charges, the lawsuit says.

Johnson, a Claremont resident, did not respond to a message seeking comment yesterday. She was fired, according to the lawsuit.

Claremont Police Chief Alex Scott yesterday declined to comment on the matter.

In his lawsuit, Satzow said the actual amount taken by Johnson may be more than $600,000, but bank records preceding 2005 were not available.

According to his lawsuit, Satzow discovered the alleged scheme in April, while Johnson was on vacation. He discovered an unauthorized use of a company credit card by Johnson and began pouring through his books.

“What he discovered astounded him,” according to the lawsuit.

Satzow found checks that were issued by the business to Johnson — the checks had Satzow’s stamped signature, and Johnson’s signature, according to the court papers.

When confronted by Satzow, Johnson “admitted to unauthorized use of the credit card,” the lawsuit says.

“At first she stated it was by accident; subsequently she admitted she knowingly used the company credit card for personal purposes without authorization,” the lawsuit says.

Later in the day, she and Satzow met with Scott. During this conversation, Johnson said she created false invoices from one of the smokehouse’s largest vendors and showed checks. Instead, the checks were made to her, and stamped with Satzow’s signature, according to the lawsuit.

In recent years, Johnson went on “elaborate” vacations, and bought multiple luxury vehicles, including a Mercedes Benz SUV, Harley Davidson motorcycles, snowmobiles for herself and her husband, and expensive jewelry, including a diamond ring worth at least $30,000, according to the lawsuit.

Satzow is seeking unspecified damages in Sullivan County Superior Court.

Satzow, who did not respond to a message yesterday, told the Valley News earlier this year that the Smokehouse has 30 employees and was hiring, and had grown in recent years. Satzow is the vice chair of the Claremont Development Authority, a volunteer group designed to boost local business.

A court hearing on the lawsuit has not been scheduled, however, officials have already taken some action against Johnson.

After finding her Mercedes SUV and other items listed for sale the internet, Satzow and his attorney asked for a judge to seize the items, before they could be sold off to third parties.

Judge Brian Tucker on Friday ordered the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department to take possession of all Johnson’s jewelry, the 2012 Mercedes SUV and all her vehicles, according to court documents.

Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.