Department of Justice says VR Lab owners stole taxpayer dollars

Posted at 10:31 PM, Mar 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-27 22:31:25-04

The U.S. Department of Justice announced federal charges against VR Labs and three people involved: conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, wire fraud, and illegal monetary transactions.

In 2010, Lee County gave VR Labs $5 million of taxpayer dollars to build a bottling plant in the area and bring more than 200 jobs to the county by 2016.

The FBI started investigating VR Labs in 2013.

On Monday, the U.S. Attorney formally charged Robert and Kay Gow, the owners of the company, and John G. Williams, their "long-time friend," in this case.

The U.S. Attorney said in seeking the grant, the Gows made numerous false and fraudulent representations about their financial success. Once an agreement was reached, the Department of Justice said John Williams, a "long-time friend of the Gows," registered a fictitious name "Williams Specialty Bottling Equipment," with the Florida Secretary of State.

The Gows reportedly said Williams would provide the bottling line for the manufacturing facility, but he had no such experience or expertise. Williams apparently used false invoices for work and services 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 fraudulent invoices to request the grant money from the county.

"It's a huge, huge issue. Five million dollars is a lot of money that we've paid in," Lee County taxpayer Jamie Stewart said.

The Gows refused to answer any questions as they left the courthouse, but their attorney provided one comment:

"My Clients, Mr. and Mrs. Gow, vigorously -- and I mean vigorously -- maintain their innocence. We expect this case to go to trial, where we have subpoena power and the ability to cross-examine every witness. We believe when the jury hears all of the evidence, both Mr. and Mrs. Gow will be found not guilty."

The couple has also had to defend themselves in a lawsuit brought forth by Lee County. The suit is still ongoing, as the county works to get the taxpayer money back.