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Ex-grant manager's pension stripped

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A state agency has stripped the public pension of a former job training grants administrator after she admitted using her position to steer federal funds to her son, daughter-in-law and housemate.

The West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board filed a "less than honorable service" case against Mary Jane Bowling, who resigned as a Workforce West Virginia grants manager in 2009 amid state and federal investigations.

Bowling did not request a circuit court ruling on the retirement board's case. So the retirement board has terminated her pension benefits and plans to issue a refund for her employee contributions, said Diane Holley-Brown, spokeswoman for the Department of Administration.

"Ms. Bowling waived her right to a judicial determination in court and asked for a refund," Holley-Brown said Thursday. "We've just started the process of issuing a refund of her employee contributions to her."

Under state law, the retirement board can strip public employees of their public pensions if they're convicted of a felony for conduct "related to his or her office or employment which he or she committed while holding the office."

Last year, Bowling pleaded guilty to misappropriating federal grant money. She was sentenced to five years of probation and six months of home confinement.

During her plea hearing, Bowling admitted she forged a co-worker's signature to ensure that Cross Lanes-based Comar Inc. received a $100,000 federal grant in 2008. Bowling's son, Martin Bowling, was Comar's chief technical officer at the time.

Mary Jane Bowling also hand-delivered payments to Comar, and allowed her son to use her credit card to charge expenses to the grant. The grant money paid for work that was never done, lavish resort stays, expensive bar tabs, and an anti-aging conference where former Comar employees promoted the firm.

Mary Jane Bowling's housemate, Christine Gardner, and Bowling's daughter-in-law, Mandi Felty, also received $10,000 in dubious consulting fees from the job-training grant.

Martin Bowling later received Felty's share of the consulting fees -- $5,000 -- as an employee bonus for helping Comar secure the grant.

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

The retirement board voted unanimously at its Dec. 15 meeting to proceed with a "less than honorable service" case against Mary Jane Bowling, noting that she had "pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the theft of employment and training funds." Bowling had worked as a state employee for 14 years and five months.

"The board members were aware of her situation," Holley-Brown said.

Bowling has repeatedly declined to comment on her misconduct and conviction.

Last year, Martin Bowling was sentenced to six months in federal prison and five years of probation. He was released Dec. 22. Gardner, the former director of West Virginia State University's Economic Development Center in Charleston, received three months of probation.

Comar's former CEO Al Hendershot was sentenced to six months at a federal work release center in Atlanta.

Comar formerly published West Virginia Executive and MetroValley magazines. The company no longer exists.

Earlier this week, Sen. Tom Coburn issued a report about waste, fraud and mismanagement in federal employment training programs. Coburn's report accompanied the release of a similar study by the Government Accountability Office.

The Oklahoma Republican's report cited the Workforce West Virginia grant scandal as one of the nation's most egregious examples of job training fraud in recent years. The report noted that Mary Jane Bowling steered the $100,000 grant to Comar in June 2008, even though Martin Bowling had been indicted on separate computer fraud charges in Kanawha Circuit Court two months earlier.  

Coburn's report is available online at coburn.senate.gov/public/

Last July, the state Ethics Commission publicly reprimanded Mary Jane Bowling and fined her $1,000, after Bowling admitted she used her position for the financial gain of Gardner, Martin Bowling and Felty.

As part of an agreement with the commission, Mary Jane Bowling also agreed not to accept a state, county or municipal job, or run for public office, for 10 years.

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

 

 

 

 


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