Source: Wall Street Journal
Pubdate: Fri, 31 Jul 1998
Author: Phil Kuntz - Staff Reporter


ARLINGTON, Va. -- David Bowman's cubicle, usually a bureaucrat's ideal of
meticulous order, was a shambles. His desk had been rifled, his computer
was gone. This much, though, was left undisturbed on the cubicle wall: the
seal of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the agency he had served for
21 years.

"What's going on?" a slack-jawed Mr. Bowman asked.

"I can't tell you anything, David," replied James Duke, his boss at the
DEA's budget office. "Go home, and we'll talk about it tomorrow."

Later, the eldest of Mr. Bowman's four grown kids, Donna Dunn, arrived home
to find her usually ebullient father mumbling to himself: "You just follow
orders. You follow orders."

Her brother, David Bowman Jr., summed things up: "Life as we know it is over."

Indeed. The Bowmans had lived luxuriously for years, thanks to the father's
mysterious side business, Bowman Enterprises Inc. The company grossed $1
million a year on average. But investigators have concluded that the money
was illegally siphoned to a bogus company from DEA headquarters here, in
hundreds of checks averaging just under $9,000 each. In all, the government
says in an indictment, Mr. Bowman stole more than $6 million between 1990
and 1996.

And for years, nobody noticed.

Not the DEA clerks who kept cutting checks for an unknown company based on
incomplete documentation and vague cloak-and-dagger assurances. Not the
Justice Department's credit union, where Mr. Bowman sometimes socked away
$5,000 or $10,000 a month on an $87,100 salary. Not his boss, who couldn't
understand Mr. Bowman's secretive ways. And certainly not the government
officials who gave him and his colleagues an award for cutting costs.

Nor did anybody outside DEA inform authorities that one of its midlevel
bureaucrats was rolling in dough. Not his retinue of $12-an-hour personal
assistants who deposited the Treasury checks in the bank but never saw any
business conducted. Not the merchants who sold his family $300,000 worth of
jewelry and $124,000 worth of poster-shop artwork.

Nor was there a word of warning from his wife and children. They spent huge
amounts on home purchases and renovations, overseas honeymoons, new cars --
even Rolex watches costing up to $18,000. American Express bills regularly
exceeded $20,000 a month.

"I never thought to say, 'Dad, how come you make so much money?' It's not
something you ask your father," says Ms. Dunn.

Rumblings About the CIA

Mr. Bowman's undoing was a matter of happenstance -- an audit by an
inquisitive newcomer, checking to make sure the government was paying
vendors on time. The March 1997 office raid marked the unraveling of a
simple scheme allegedly perpetrated against one of the world's most elite
police agencies by a man so severely disabled from muscular dystrophy that
he can't eat, use the bathroom or breathe without assistance.

Mr. Bowman denies wrongdoing and claims that a now-deceased former CIA
official authorized his actions. His family says he is innocent and is
desperate to keep him out of prison. Nevertheless, many of the facts in
this case are corroborated by records at the U.S. District Court in
Alexandria, Va., and interviews with law-enforcement officials, the Bowman
family, friends and associates.

Mr. Bowman is scheduled to go on trial in September on multiple charges.
But however his criminal case is resolved, investigators estimate they will
recover, at best, 20% of the DEA's money. His health is fading fast, and
forfeiture laws favor innocent beneficiaries, such as, by their account,
his relatives. "If he drops dead, we may get nothing," says a Justice
Department official.

Investigators wonder if that was the plan all along.

A Devastating Disease

Mr. Bowman's disease was diagnosed in his childhood, and he tells people,
"I was supposed to be dead before I graduated high school." He was in a
wheelchair by age 30. Yet, even on borrowed time and bum limbs, he sought
to live life to the fullest. He lettered in high school by managing track
and cross-country teams. He was good at target-shooting and handy at sewing
Boy Scout patches. He acquired a taste for good wine.

As his legs and arms weakened, his wife and children dressed him, bathed
him and helped him on the toilet. "There was no embarrassment," says Ms.
Dunn. "He was not a naked man; he was just in his birthday suit and needed
to have a bath."

By the late 1980s, his health had deteriorated severely. He was permanently
hooked to a machine that pumps air through a tracheotomy incision. Bosses
encouraged him to retire, but Mr. Bowman refused. "Work gave him purpose,"
says Ms. Dunn. The DEA hired her to be his aide and nurse at the office
(and later gave her another job), but Mr. Bowman felt he was being
pressured to quit.

So he became more tight-lipped about how he did his job, thinking that
would make it harder to fire him. Transferred from a supervisory position
to a budget job with no one reporting directly to him, he took on some new
duties and ended up in control of an account used to reimburse the State
Department for supporting DEA posts overseas.

Around the same time, Mr. Bowman's own expenses jumped. The Bowmans
upgraded to a $421,000 home in 1988 and later spent $100,000 improving it,
partly to accommodate his disability.

As he became more ill, the stress wore particularly hard on his wife, Pearl
Bowman, who hurt her back moving him and seemed weary of caring for him.
"She still loves him," says daughter Jennifer Bowman, but "Mom has been
less of a wife and more of a nurse or caretaker for so long that I think
the whole wife aspect is gone."

'A Sweetheart Deal'

In 1990, Mr. Bowman began what he would later tell people was a sideline as
a DEA contractor. A former personal assistant, Ramon Robertson, recalls Mr.
Bowman's saying that the agency had given him "a sweetheart deal" because
he was too disabled to be a DEA agent. He told his wife, "We'll never have
to worry about money again."

He filed incorporation papers in Virginia for Bowman Enterprises, saying
the company would be involved in debt collection, academic services,
landscaping, real estate and debentures. On DEA forms requesting permission
to moonlight, he also mentioned snow-plowing. Mrs. Bowman was named
assistant chairman, his daughter Alison president, and the three other
children vice presidents.

All of them now say they knew little about the company, and they state in
court filings that they believed it was legitimate. Bowman Enterprises
certainly had trappings of legitimacy. It had an insurance plan. Calendars,
calculators, pens and a brother-in-law's racing car were festooned with its
name. Mr. Bowman even paid taxes on company profits.

Mrs. Bowman tells people she repeatedly asked her husband to explain the
business, but he refused. She says she asked him if he was doing anything
illegal and he said no. Mrs. Bowman's lawyer said in court that she
figured, "'Oh great, we're doing well,' and didn't investigate any

Mr. Bowman told friends that he provided money for covert operations
overseas and even helped free hostages. He spoke mysteriously of bosses who
wanted things done but didn't want to know details.

Harvey Volzer, Mr. Bowman's lawyer, filed a sealed document in court
claiming CIA authorization for his actions, people familiar with it say.
Mr. Bowman's purported contact was a longtime friend who worked in the
CIA's personnel office until 1993 and died in 1996. DEA officials say Mr.
Bowman had nothing to do with covert operations.

On Nov. 15, 1990, an application form was filed at the Rosslyn, Va., post
office to open a box in the name of the "Finance Liaison Group." It was
signed "CEO David S. Bowman." Eight days later, he opened a bank account
titled "Finance Liaison Group-Bowman Enterprises" and asked for checks
bearing only the latter part of the name. On Dec. 7, 1990, the DEA started
sending checks to the postal box.

Mr. Bowman's assistants -- some DEA-employed, some from Bowman Enterprises
- -- deposited the checks. Aides found this curious, but they trusted Mr.
Bowman. "I put him on a pedestal," says Mr. Robertson, now a policeman. "It
was ludicrous the way he spent money, but I was never suspicious."

Another former assistant, Bradley Kennerly, felt sure that DEA employees
couldn't also be DEA contractors. But "I figured I'm being paid to perform
services, not to ask questions," he recalls.

No Red Flags

The DEA acknowledges that Mr. Bowman's handling of its funds violated the
agency's own safeguards. Ordinarily, such disbursements require the
involvement of multiple officials. But in Mr. Bowman's case, he alone
decided how much money the account needed, verified services rendered and
authorized payments. On Mr. Bowman's watch, the agency's State Department
reimbursement account grew 66% to $10 million in six years. During the same
time, Mr. Bowman was sending more and more of those DEA funds to his
company -- up to $1.9 million in 1996.

Investigators say Mr. Bowman would file a standard agency form requesting
that the Finance Liaison Group be paid for undefined "support services"
provided to particular DEA posts around the globe. The vouchers often
lacked signatures, authorization codes or other backup -- but no one
questioned him closely. When he was pressed, court records say, he
suggested to an accounting supervisor "that the payments were for
CIA-related services." Nor did the payments raise a red flag when the DEA
reconciled the books each quarter.

DEA officials now speculate that Mr. Bowman's disability may have shielded
him from closer scrutiny. While on the job, he was viewed by colleagues
with a mixture of pity and admiration. Though he sometimes came off as
furtive about his DEA role, he also was seen as competent and well-liked,
bringing doughnuts on Fridays and fruitcakes at Christmas. He often sported
a pin he was given for working on a task force that won an award from Vice
President Gore's reinventing government initiative. (His panel had
developed cost-effective ways of paying for those "support services.") He
also was the "go-to guy" for overseas agents needing guidance through the
bureaucracy back at headquarters, says a former colleague.

"How could you not trust a guy like that?" says Mr. Duke, his supervisor.
"To my eternal shame, I didn't look deeper into this clown when I got there
because I knew he was weird -- but not dishonest." (Mr. Duke's bosses
didn't want him to discuss specifics.)

Spending Sprees

As the money poured in, the Bowmans' lifestyle was transformed.

Raised in rural poverty, Mrs. Bowman led the way. She bought an $8,000
Rolex for her 50th birthday in 1991 and quit her Pentagon secretarial job
in early 1992. She became the best customer at Shaw's Jewelers at the local
mall, salespeople say. Her diamond ankle bracelet cost $11,000, tanzanite
pendant and earrings twice that. She stocked up on gifts for friends and
relatives. "I'll take all of them," she once said, eyeing 50 bracelets on

Mrs. Bowman paid for cosmetic surgery for herself, two daughters and a
sister. Victoria's Secret charges topped $500 a visit. She spent nearly
$140,000 on gold pieces, proof sets and commemorative coins. She acquired
so many limited-edition prints and animation cels that she displayed them
on rotation at the house.

Mr. Bowman also indulged. At Shaw's, he spied a pendant, considered the
$500 price tag on the chain and decided to buy it. But he had seen only the
chain's price; the pendant cost nearly $18,000. No matter; Mr. Bowman
pulled out his credit card.

He also became more security-conscious. He bought a state-of-the-art
home-security system and had utility wires buried, lest bad guys sever
them. The house has an elaborate multi-line phone-and-intercom system
connecting almost every room -- bathrooms, attic and garage included.

Mr. Bowman was generous to relatives and friends. He also donated countless
hours of his bookkeeping time to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the
local Boy Scouts and the Westover Baptist Church.

But "if he stole money, he didn't give it to the church," says former
pastor Chester Smith. As for all of that newfound wealth, Mr. Smith says,
"My wife and I used to discuss that frequently: How in the world did the
Bowmans have that much money?"

Bowman Enterprises employed his children's friends as personal assistants
to care for him. The company paid his children, too, when they took care of
him. He sometimes chastised them for not putting in for every minute on the
ledger by the front door.

The parents were strict, insisting on respect, manners and honesty. But the
children got practically whatever they wanted. "We were spoiled, but we
weren't spoiled brats," says Ms. Dunn. "We earned what we got. We put up
with a lot. We cared for Dad so much, and Dad thought the only way he could
pay us back was to provide for us."

"I was brought up dealing with things that a normal child doesn't have to
deal with," says Jennifer Bowman. "When I was 10 years old, I was at home
taking care of a 46-year-old 'trach' patient
 . I never said, 'I'll take
care of you if you'll buy me a car.' 
 As a reward for doing such a good
job, you get things."

The children say they got new cars routinely, as did spouses. Over the
years, David Jr. received three Mustangs, an Explorer and two motorcycles.
He customized one Mustang with racing parts for $12,000 and with a
20-speaker, stereo-TV-video system for $6,000.

Everybody got cellular phones, beepers and generous use of credit cards.
Alison and Robert Waters racked up $36,000 in charges in the summer of
1996, when they married and then honeymooned in Britain. College tuition
was covered, too. Mr. Bowman kept the children near his Arlington home by
providing them around $375,000 for down payments, mortgage bills and other
housing expenses.

Christmas was especially festive. Aides once procured 250 fruitcakes and a
car load of honey-baked hams for gifts. They spent thousands on White House
Christmas ornaments, and rented a cherry picker to hang lights on their

A New Auditor Arrives

The end began shortly before Christmas 1996. A new DEA auditor, Diane
Webster, walked into Mr. Bowman's office with a sheaf of payment requests.
She was doing an audit under a law that requires vendors to be paid
quickly, and she happened to pick some of the Finance Liaison Group

"Mr. Bowman, I need to talk to you about these. There's nothing on here. Do
you have any backup?" she asked. He replied: "It's a very sensitive issue;
I'll have to get back to you." Then, according to a witness to the
conversation, he tried to play down the matter by noting she had only a
handful of vouchers. "There's 60 more on my desk," Ms. Webster replied.

Mr. Duke demanded substantiation, so Mr. Bowman told his family to help
reconstruct some missing files. They began faxing vaguely worded letters to
DEA offices around the globe asking for verification of services rendered.
According to court files, Mr. Bowman also tricked a State Department
official into signing a fabricated authorization form, telling him it was a
duplicate he needed for his files. Finally, Mr. Bowman wrote his boss a
memo: "I trust that this information will alleviate your concern."

It didn't. Mr. Duke couldn't find anybody who knew of the Finance Liaison
Group. Then DEA Inspector Harry Spence found a copy of the application for
the postal box. Agents raided Mr. Bowman's office that weekend.

The family reacted quickly. Mrs. Bowman stored jewelry and coins at her
sister's home, family members say. Mr. Bowman said "everything would be
taken. If anything is yours, you might want to take it," recalls Jennifer
Bowman. David Jr. says his father told him it would be "a good idea" to
empty bank accounts. Evidence disappeared, including a "Finance Liaison
Group -- For Deposit Only" stamp. David Jr.'s wife, Kim, says Alison told
her to throw it away; Alison says she doesn't recall what she told Kim.

Mr. Bowman retired from the DEA. The good life over, relatives bought
groceries until his $3,000-a-month retirement kicked in. Ms. Dunn pawned
her Rolex. The other children got jobs.

One night, "all four of us got together with Dad," Jennifer Bowman recalls.
"We said, "We love you regardless, [but] we want you to tell the truth."
But he's afraid if he told all, that we'd be assassinated. He won't let us
take the bird out of the house because if somebody tries to put gas in the
house, the bird would die first."

Seizing the Assets

Prosecutors sought to temporarily seize the family's major assets -- a move
that U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema allowed after finding "a
substantial probability" of Mr. Bowman's guilt. Three homes went on the
market; two have sold. Proceeds went to an escrow account. Another judge
later allowed the family to use some of the money to pay debts. That
angered the Justice Department and the DEA. "It is unfair for the
government to be again paying the Bowmans' bills," government attorney
James Pavlock argued in court.

On March 10, a year after the raid on his office, Mr. Bowman was indicted
on 74 counts of money laundering, mail fraud and theft. The government also
has filed forfeiture claims for up to $2.3 million in cash and property. No
one else was charged, and the indictment doesn't accuse Mr. Bowman of
conspiring with anyone else.

DEA Administrator Thomas Constantine blamed his agency for the mess: "Had
many of the managers and personnel responsible for processing or
supervising Bowman's accounts exercised proper care and adherence to
protocols, Bowman's scheme would not have been successful." The DEA is
weighing whether to discipline numerous employees. Ms. Dunn, along with Mr.
Bowman's last DEA aide, nephew Scott Blizzard, were suspended last
September, with pay.

Prosecutors wanted to plea bargain with Mr. Bowman so he would forfeit
assets without a fight. But the negotiations went nowhere when DEA's Mr.
Constantine demanded significant prison time as part of any deal.

Mr. Bowman's lawyer is seeking to have his client declared unfit for trial,
now set for Sept. 14. Mr. Bowman was hospitalized on Tuesday. When at home,
he spends his days in the family room, tethered to a ventilator, bloated
and overweight. He gets one drug for pain, another for depression. He's
usually asleep or groggy. His speech is labored but coherent. A casket that
he commissioned -- made by his best friend from specially selected Wyoming
pine -- sits in the living room.

Niece Jennifer Blizzard likes to plop down on his bed and toss grapes into
his mouth, as she did at his 58th birthday party recently. Later, Mrs.
Bowman disconnected the breathing device, and nephew Scott manually pumped
air into his lungs while Alison cleaned his tracheotomy. Mrs. Bowman tested
his blood-sugar level with a finger prick and declared him fit for a bit of
wine. Someone brought out a straw and a "Bowman Enterprises" wine glass.

Some of Mr. Bowman's family and friends are sure he is an innocent dupe
being prosecuted to cover up who-knows-what. As for David Jr., he refuses
to believe his father is guilty, but he also doesn't buy the
cloak-and-dagger stuff. "I'm not sure what's right," he says. "If he did
this, then everything I grew up with was a lie. He helped me memorize the
Boy Scout oath."

- ---
Checked-by: (Joel W. Johnson)