3 indicted in Lee County economic development fraud

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FILE Photo from March 2017 – VR Labs. Credit: WINK News.

FORT MYERS, Fla. Three people were indicted Monday on charges that they conspired to defraud Lee County of $5 million in economic development incentives, the Justice Department announced.

Naples residents Kay F. Gow, 66, and Robert T. Gow, 75 each face up to 45 years of prison if convicted for their roles in VR Laboratories LLC, a venture that promised to bring hundreds of high-paying jobs to Lee County that never came, according to the Justice Department. Partner John G. Williams, Jr., 65, of Virginia Beach, could see up to 25 years in prison.

Williams was arrested early Monday morning. The Gows turned themselves in.

All three are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, wire fraud, and illegal monetary transactions. Each is free on $100,000 bond.

“My clients, Mr. and Mrs. Gow, vigorously, and I mean vigorously, maintain their innocence,” defense attorney John M. Fitzgibbons said. “We expect this case to go to trial, where we have subpoena power and the ability to cross-examine each witness, and we believe that when the jury hears all the evidence, both Mr. and Mrs. Gow will be found not guilty.”

Williams also plans to contest the charges, his attorney said.

The Gows formed VR Laboratories LLC to apply for a $5 million grant from the county through the Financial Incentives for Recruiting Strategic Targets program, better known as FIRST, the indictment states. The Gows are accused of misrepresenting the success of VR Labs and one of their previous companies.

They claimed VR Labs was poised to become a leading global formulator and manufacturer of botanical pharmaceuticals, the indictment said. But a manufacturing facility that the grant was supposed to have funded was never built.

After the county awarded the FIRST grant, the Gows entered an agreement with Williams, a longtime friend, who was to provide bottling service for energy drinks VR Labs would manufacture through his newly formed Williams Specialty Bottling Equipment, according to the indictment. But Williams had no experience or expertise in bottling, the indictment said.

Williams is accused of preparing fraudulent invoices that the Gows used to request disbursement of grant funds from the county, which paid out $4.7 million of the $5 million grant, according to the Justice Department.

The Gows and Williams are expected to return to court in mid-April after their initial appearances Monday.

WINK News reporter Kim Powell gathered reaction from Lee County taxpayers:

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