Eureka hemp facility workers file wage claims

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Employees of a hemp-processing facility in Eureka are sitting on paychecks they cannot cash after the company they worked for was declared insolvent.

Eureka93 – which according to its website operates “one of the largest hemp cultivation and CBD extraction operations in North America” – maintained a large processing facility in Eureka. But as the company became crippled with debt and financial woes in late 2019, many of the facility’s 60 employees were left with unpaid wages and allegedly worthless stock.

As a result, multiple employees have filed wage claims with the Montana Department of Labor. At least eight had filed as of Jan. 24, according to Lauren Lewis, public information officer for the state department.

In less than a year, the company went from listing itself on the Canadian Stock Exchange to collapsing under a massive burden of debt.

The name “Eureka93” was the assumed name of the company – based out of Ottawa, Canada – that formed after a merger of LiveWell Canada, Vitality CBD Natural Health Products and Acenzia Inc. in December 2018. But a pay stub provided by a former employee lists the company as Vitality Natural Health, LLC.

Vitality is a foreign limited liability company registered with the Montana Secretary of State with Utah as its state of jurisdiction.

The Canadian Stock Exchange suspended trading of the company’s stocks in September 2019 as the company failed to turn in its quarterly financial reports. Then in late September, the entire senior leadership team, Chief Executive Officer David Rendimonti and every member of the Board of Directors except one resigned and left the company, according to a report from Business Wire.”

At that time, it was evident to the former Board and executive management team that the companies were insolvent,” the report states.

A Sept. 24, 2019, press release by Eureka93 states that Seann Poli and Owen Kenney – co-founders of LiveWell Canada and Vitality CBD Natural Health Products Inc. – took on the role of interim CEOs.

“Our intention is to completely restructure our operations to return the companies Owen Kenney and I co-founded … to profitability for our shareholders,” Poli said in the press release.

The last press release from Eureka93, dated Dec. 20, 2019, announced the company was restructuring its debt due to “the insolvent nature of the company.”

When the Daily Inter Lake called the number on the Eureka93 website, an automated message directed the reporter to the accounting department of a company called “LiveWell Foods.” Multiple messages were not returned.

Attempts to reach current and former Eureka93 leadership – including Rendimonti, Kenney and Poli – were unsuccessful.

Elizabeth Bowden was a lab supervisor and shift supervisor for Eureka93, also known as Vitality Natural Health. She and her son, Alan, who also worked at the facility, began having issues with their paychecks starting in August 2019.

“People were talking in an employee group chat that they couldn’t cash their checks,” Bowden said.

“Everybody liked where we worked, we loved what we did,” she said. Many employees thought the paycheck situation would be resolved “within a week or two.”

“We thought the company was on the up and up,” she said.

But the facility operated at a very limited capacity from mid-August until mid-October, with most employees unable to work and struggling to cash paychecks they had received weeks beforehand.

However, many of the employees were “really invested in the plant” and wanted to see it work, Bowden said. The company also offered good-paying jobs for the Eureka area, with wages ranging “from $15 to $20 per hour.”

Former employee Pearse Meighan and his wife, who also worked at the facility, were in the process of buying a property when the company told them in August they could not come back to work or cash their paychecks.

Meighan had left a job earlier in the year where he made $12 per hour to work for Vitality.

After many weeks of the company telling employees they “were working on it” and to “hang in there,” Meighan no longer had the money or the support of the bank to buy the property.

“We were pretty much homeless at that point,” he said.

But even as people could not work, employees went in to “work for free” as salespeople to try and get new clients for the company, Meighan said. He and Bowden both said some of their co-workers had thousands of dollars invested in the company.

But Meighan was done with the company, saying the problems at Eureka93 were more than just financial. He said he had numerous safety concerns, allegedly including massive mouse infestations and industrial-grade alcohol placed near live sparks, that he would frequently report to his manager.

“We had competitions over how many mice we could kill,” Meighan said, before the company finally brought in poison to take care of the problem.

“I would bring up safety concerns and get yelled at,” he said. “I got retaliated at so much that I stopped bringing up safety concerns.”

By the end of the year employees were “begging,” Bowden said. “Everybody’s asking, ‘You guys have been working on a deal, but you’ve been saying that since August.”

“We are trying to pick ourselves up and get out of this hole they put us in,” she said.

The employees were granted 1,500 stock options by the company in March 2019 – according to a letter provided by a former employee – though that stock is now worth pennies. The stock options were considered their “Christmas bonus,” both Bowden and Meighan said.

“You will receive an option grant letter from finance over the coming weeks,” the letter states. But Bowden reported the employees never received the grant letter.

Reporter Colin Gaiser may be reached at 758-4439 or cgaiser@dailyinterlake.com.

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