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Charity in bitter court battle -

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Charity in bitter court battle

Reporter: Christopher Zinn

KERRY O'BRIEN: Around the country, thousands of charity and not for profit organisations perform
vital community work, but when allegations of misappropriation of funds are related to charities,
sensitivities are heightened and things can get nasty. This is a story involving the country's
first sanctuary for donkeys. From humble beginnings it began to attract more and more money,
including a bequest for $100,000. Then its co founder was issued a please explain, after the donkey
donations were mixed with her own personal accounts, sparking a bitter and destructive battle in
and out of the courts. Christopher Zinn reports.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: In cautionary tales of old, the donkey often features as stubborn, stupid or
both. But in this story of betrayal, intrigue and hatred, these underrated equines are the good
guys.

JO-ANNE KOKAS, GOOD SAMARITAN DONKEY SANCTUARY: I was only keeping the accounts for one book that I
knew of, just one book, I didn't we didn't know about the other accounts.

CHRISTINE BERRY, DONKEYS WITH HEART: Poor bookkeeping or poor keeping of records through ignorance
and inexperience is not a crime.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: It's a bitter dispute, which has destroyed friendships and rent the normally
gentle donkey world asunder. It concerns the battle over the rightful owner of hundreds of
thousands of unaccounted-for dollars, and the reputation of the Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary in
the lower Hunter Valley of NSW. Also at stake is the good name of the woman who co-founded it all,
and that of her husband, who now both face financial ruin.

STEPHEN BERRY: I've had experiences, you know, in the last five years that have just been amazing,
you know. Like being arrested and fingerprinted and all that, it's just amazing.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Seven years ago, Christine Berry was awarded an Order of Australia medal for her
services to donkey welfare.

CHRISTINE BERRY (ARCHIVE FOOTAGE): I'm going to have to work even harder to ensure that I live up
to an OAM for the rest of my life.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Christine Berry's passion for donkeys brought her together with Jo-anne Kokas. In
1990, they started the sanctuary, a first for Australia, and took in neglected animals from all
over the country. Together they wrote the veritable Bible of donkey care, and were feted here and
overseas. Stephen Berry saw the good deeds grow into a booming empire.

STEPHEN BERRY: It's a big thing now, it's worth a lot of money and they've got all sorts of people
running that thing now and that started from our little backyard.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: There were generous bequests, and more and more donkeys needing arduous care. The
two old friends, now bitter enemies, blame each other for their acrimonious falling out.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: You signed blank cheques?

JO-ANNE KOKAS: Oh, yes, of course, I trusted people. I signed a whole book of blank cheques.

CHRISTINE BERRY: And I did believe everything was being done properly and it wasn't and I have to
wear it.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: In the run-up to incorporating the organisation, an audit revealed serious
deficiencies in the sanctuary's accounting and financial records. Christine Berry was confronted
with allegations of impropriety which she then, as now, denies.

CHRISTINE BERRY: How can looking after donkeys, doing it successfully, be wrong? I didn't do
anything wrong.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: In essence, Christine Berry admits mixing up her own money with that of the
sanctuary's. A forensic accountant's report said she needed to account for almost $1 million worth
of suspicious transactions. In late 2001, after the irregularities were uncovered, Christine Berry
agreed to hand back this land and more than $250,000. A few days later she recanted, claiming she'd
been forced into the move under duress, and that's when the battle over the donkey sanctuary really
got nasty.

CHRISTINE BERRY: We had the fraud squad, the police look into our things and I'm not arrested. They
didn't want to pursue it. So I think that this is a civil case that's going on, not a police case.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: But the police did get involved; as the argument over who owned the land
escalated, the Berrys camped on the property, and apprehensive sanctuary volunteers video recorded
their visits to feed the donkeys. On one occasion, Stephen Berry, allegedly carrying a machete,
tried to wrestle the camera away. He pleaded guilty to a stalking charge and was given a good
behaviour bond.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: They claim you threatened them with a machete.

CHRISTINE BERRY: He doesn't have a machete.

STEPHEN BERRY: That was brilliant. They're very clever people, very clever people, very clever. And
we, you know, we're fairly naive, I think.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: But things were getting very serious. Forensic accountants probed through
thousands of transactions, including those of the wider Berri family.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: You know, there are some funds that you gave to your son in law, $23,000.

CHRISTINE BERRY: That was my money, that was my money. That came out of my bank account, my money.
I explained all that and that's the truth and I'll go to my grave. That was my money. They've got
no right to query that and I mixed so much of my money for those donkeys.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Geoffrey Farrance is vice president of the NSW Donkey Society. He says it's cost
the sanctuary $200,000 to fight the case.

GEOFFREY FARRANCE, NSW DONKEY SOCIETY: It's been in preparation for four years and we're in court
for two weeks in the Supreme Court and that is very, very expensive, and then we've had to wait
another year for the judge's decision, which is not quite final but, basically, says that we are in
the right and the other person is not.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: What's so telling for you in these documents?

GEOFFREY FARRANCE: It means to us the complete record of every single penny that was spent to run
the sanctuary for the last 12 or so years. There are numerous bank accounts that we never knew
about at all, and that was where the bulk of the money was handled.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Twenty-one bank accounts, in fact?

GEOFFREY FARRANCE: Approximately 21 bank accounts, yes, that we didn't know of and had no control
of.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: There might not be anything wrong with having 21 bank accounts, but it could look
suspicious.

CHRISTINE BERRY: It's the way you say it.

STEPHEN BERRY: It's the way you say things, we understand that.

CHRISTINE BERRY: And a whole lot of this mess is the way it's been said.

STEPHEN BERRY: They were investment accounts, not actually working accounts.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: It was also alleged this bequest for $100,000 in 2000 was placed in an account
under Christine Berry's sole control. Later, it was used to buy land which she then handed over to
the sanctuary.

CHRISTINE BERRY: If you were a crook you don't give money back, do you? You hide it. You go and
have a whoop de do time.

STEPHEN BERRY: They wouldn't have got a thing.

CHRISTINE BERRY: That's the funny part about it. There was no secret little stash, you know, just
keep filling that pocket. It wasn't like that.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Justice Rex Smart is due to make final orders on February 12, but has made his 44
page judgment, saying the Berrys have some explaining to do and instructing them to provide even
more financial details. He's also ordered them to pay the other side's costs.

GEOFFREY FARRANCE: I think the bulk of the claims that we have, which have been now accepted by the
court, prove that in fact we were right.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: But, I mean, this has the propensity to ruin you, doesn't it, if they award costs
against you?

CHRISTINE BERRY: As long as they don't take the donkeys away.

STEPHEN BERRY: I mean, the donkeys are still there. We're only people, we survive.

CHRISTINE BERRY: We live in a box. We're OK. The donkeys are what matter.

STEPHEN BERRY: We've lived rough, really hard since this stuff sort of began, because we've had to.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Christine Berry is still in the area, runs an agency called Donkey Welfare with
Heart and says her side is backed by many in the donkey fraternity. On the day we visited, she
mustered supporters from around the State.

SUPPORTER: Poor Christine, I mean, what she's put through. Christine who, of all the people in the
world, least deserves treatment such as that.

SUPPORTER: To see her go through it, she and Stephen, and to pull themselves up by the bootstraps
and start again has been just so impressive.

SUPPORTER: That's her only agenda, isn't it, just the welfare of the donkeys, there's nothing else.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: The Berrys say they will appeal against the judgment. And if this is a modern day
cautionary tale about how things can go awry, however good the intentions, there is at least one
moral that both sides can agree about.

JO-ANNE KOKAS: I don't trust anyone. Always check everything yourself.

CHRISTINE BERRY: The whole court case thing was about money and power, not about the animals and
the care. There's not one person I know that can say I've ever done anything unkind or wrong to a
donkey and I don't think that - the real issue has been lost. The money was spent on donkeys.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Well, at least the donkeys seem to be OK. That report from Christopher Zinn.

(c) 2007 ABC