VR Labs Principals Charged With Scheme To Defraud Lee County Of Millions In Grant Program Funds
Fort Myers, FL – Acting United States Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow announces the unsealing of an indictment charging Kay F. Gow (66, Naples), Robert T. Gow (75, Naples), and John G. Williams, Jr. (65, Virginia Beach, VA) with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, wire fraud, and illegal monetary transactions. If convicted on all counts, the Gows each face a maximum penalty of 45 years in federal prison, and Williams faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in federal prison. The indictment also notifies the defendants that the United States intends to forfeit over $5.1 million, that is alleged to be traceable proceeds of the offenses. All three individuals will make their initial appearances today at 3:00 p.m. before United States Magistrate Judge Carol Mirando.
According to the indictment,, the Gows owned and controlled multiple entities, including HerbalScience Group, LLC and HerbalScience Singapore Pte, Ltd. In 2010, the Gows formed VR Laboratories, LLC to apply for a $5 million grant from Lee County through the Financial Incentives for Recruiting Strategic Targets (“FIRST”) program, which consisted of taxpayer funds set aside by the county to bring economic development projects to the Ft. Myers area. In seeking the award, the Gows made numerous false and fraudulent representations to various individuals and government entities about their financial success and that of HerbalScience and 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 incentive program 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 the 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 incentive grant funds to VR Labs, but the manufacturing facility was never completed or operational.
An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Josephine W. Thomas.