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Bowling, three others sentenced in Workforce grant scheme

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Convicted Cross Lanes computer executive Martin Bowling was sentenced Tuesday to six months in federal prison and five years of probation for aggravated identity theft and his role in a state employment training grant scandal.

U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver also sentenced three others who misused a $100,000 federal grant, then took part in a scheme to cover up their misconduct.

Al Hendershot, 62, former publisher of West Virginia Executive and MetroValley magazines, was sentenced to six months at a federal work release center. Hendershot also must pay $5,000 in restitution and a $1,000 fine.

Mary Jane Bowling, 59, Bowling's mother and a former state official who steered the grant to her son's Cross Lanes marketing and publishing firm, received five years of probation and six months of home confinement. She was ordered to pay $11,663 in restitution and a $1,000 fine.

Her housemate, Christine Gardner, 58, a former West Virginia State University extension agent, received three months of probation, plus $5,000 in restitution and a $250 fine.

Copenhaver gave each of the four defendants sentences that fell below federal sentencing guidelines, noting that they had lost their jobs and would have a federal conviction on their record.

The four also had reached plea deals with federal prosecutors, saving the government the time and expense of seeking indictments.

Federal and state authorities started investigating the Bowlings, Hendershot and Gardner in March 2009, after The Charleston Gazette reported that Mary Jane Bowling used her job at Workforce West Virginia to award grant money to Cross Lanes-based Comar Inc., where her son Martin worked as chief technical officer.

In December, Mary Jane Bowling admitted that she forged a co-worker's signature to ensure her son's company received the grant. She also hand-delivered grant payments to Comar, and allowed Martin Bowling, 30, to use her credit card to charge expenses to the grant.

Mike Carey, Mary Jane Bowling's lawyer, told Copenhaver Tuesday that her former superior at Workforce West Virginia, Steve Dailey, knew her son worked at Comar, but nonetheless recommended that the firm be awarded the $100,000 grant.

The grant money paid for work never done, and for lavish resort stays, expensive bar tabs and an anti-aging conference where former Comar employees promoted the firm, in violation of the grant's rules.

Hendershot, Comar's former CEO, also used the grant money to buy a $3,500 digital camera that he later gave to a Comar employee to pay off a debt.

After Workforce West Virginia started reviewing the grant expenses, the Bowlings, Hendershot and Gardner took part in an elaborate cover-up, according to their plea agreements. The scheme included altered credit card receipts, phony documents, forged signatures, fake invoices and backdated checks.

Earlier this year, Workforce West Virginia returned $87,000 -- the money that Comar had charged to the grant -- to the federal Department of Labor. Workforce West Virginia initially sought to recoup the full amount, but agreed to drop the request after federal prosecutors said they could only prove that Comar had misspent $10,000 to $30,000.

Copenhaver admonished each of the defendants Tuesday, saying they held positions of private and public trust.

At one point, the judge singled out Hendershot for approving $10,000 in dubious consulting fees for Gardner and Mandi Felty, Martin Bowling's girlfriend at the time. Bowling later received Felty's $5,000 as an employee bonus for helping to secure the grant. The money was returned amid state and federal investigations, but Hendershot didn't report the reimbursement.

"Mr. Hendershot managed to conceal the return of money from Workforce West Virginia," Copenhaver said. "Mr. Hendershot was intimately involved in all stages."

Martin Bowling's sentence was reduced, in part, after Copenhaver agreed with federal prosecutors that Bowling cooperated in the investigation and provided "substantial assistance."

Prosecutors said they still would have been able to convict Hendershot, Mary Jane Bowling, and Gardner without Martin Bowling's help. But they said his assistance expedited the probe.

Bowling must also pay $13,733 in restitution as part of his sentence.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said, "This case is indicative of our commitment to hold accountable those who defraud programs meant for those in need -- whether those funds are meant to assist with medical care, housing, or as in this case, much needed job training and development for the people of West Virginia."

Earlier Tuesday, the sentencing took an unusual twist, after Hendershot failed to show when the hearing started at 1:30 p.m.

Hendershot's attorney, Bob Martin, said he and Hendershot, who now lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C., believed the hearing was Wednesday. After realizing the mistake, Martin said he immediately chartered a flight to Charleston for Hendershot. 

Copenhaver rescheduled the hearing for 3 p.m., and Hendershot arrived in the courtroom with his wife and other family members about 35 minutes later.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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