Grant Recipients Sentenced For $5 Million Fraud On Lee County
Ft. Myers, Florida – U.S. District Judge John E. Steele has sentenced Kay F. Gow (68, Naples) to 10 years in federal prison for her role in a conspiracy to defraud Lee County out of $5 million in grant funds, an individual investor out of $500,000, and the laundering of the proceeds. As part of Gow’s sentence, the court also entered a money judgment in the amount of $1.93 million, the proceeds of the criminal conduct. Judge Steele also sentenced co-conspirator John G. Williams, Jr. (67, Suffolk, VA) to 30 months in federal prison.
Kay Gow, her husband, Robert Gow, and Williams were found guilty by a federal jury on February 22, 2019. Robert Gow is now deceased.
According to evidence presented at trial, the Gows owned and controlled multiple entities, including HerbalScience Group, LLC and HerbalScience Singapore Pte, Ltd. In 2010, the Gows formed VR Laboratories, LLC, in order to apply for a $5 million grant through the Lee County Financial Incentives for Recruiting Strategic Targets (“FIRST”) program. The FIRST program consisted of taxpayer funds that had been set aside by the county to bring economic development projects to the Ft. Myers area. In seeking the FIRST grant, the Gows made numerous false and fraudulent representations to various individuals and government entities about the financial success and that of HerbalScience, VR Labs, including that VR Labs was poised to become a leading global formulator and manufacturer of botanical pharmaceuticals. Ultimately, Lee County awarded VR Labs $5 million in FIRST grant funds to build a manufacturing facility that the Gows had claimed would bring hundreds of high-paying jobs and economic growth to Lee County.
Once VR Labs executed an agreement with Lee County, Williams, a long-time friend of the Gows, registered a fictitious name, “Williams Specialty Bottling Equipment,” with the Florida Secretary of State. The Gows then represented that Williams would provide the bottling line for the manufacturing facility, when he had no such experience or expertise. Williams used false and fraudulent invoices for work and services allegedly performed on the bottling line to make demands for payment and, once paid, kicked back a substantial portion of the funds to VR Labs and the Gows. The Gows then used Williams’s false and fraudulent invoices to justify requests to Lee County for the payment of grant money. Once VR Labs received the grant funds, the Gows fraudulently transferred those funds to entities they owned and controlled, and ultimately to themselves, by disguising the transfers as fees, salaries, expenses, and other items. They also tried to conceal the source of the kickbacks through the creation of fictitious entities and documents.
Ultimately, Lee County disbursed approximately $4.7 million in FIRST grant funds to VR Labs, but the manufacturing facility was never completed or operational.
Having exhausted the stolen grant funds, the Gows defrauded additional private investors. One such investor lost his retirement savings of $500,000.
“The FBI works diligently to ensure that those who profit from deception and greed are brought to justice,”said Special Agent in Charge of the Tampa Division Eric W. Sporre. “Honest, hardworking individuals deserve our protection and we encourage anyone with information regarding fraudulent activity to contact law enforcement immediately.”
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Rachelle DesVaux Bedke, Michael Leeman, and Josephine W. Thomas.