Empty promise: Local veterans charity thought big gift was coming

Lift For The 22 had never received such a large donation in its two years of existence.  The funds would allow the nonprofit to pay for the 350 vets who were waiting for gym memberships.  

Man fails to deliver on donation for vets

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PORTLAND, Ore. — It was a donation that would change everything. A Gresham man promised to contribute $425,000 to a nonprofit organization that provides gym memberships to veterans. The Beaverton-based charity, Lift For The 22, celebrated the announcement with a check presentation streamed live on its Facebook page. 

“This is going to take us to the next level,” said Lift For The 22 co-founder Dennis Wright as he received an envelope from Garyn Bowen. The 22-year-old Bowen said he was a wealthy business owner who wanted to help the program by providing cash, connections and access to his corporate jet.

In reality, the envelope was empty. Bowen never delivered the money.

“I figured the guy must be doing something right to donate that kind of money,” said Robert Sanders, who met Bowen at the gym. “It was all made up. It was all a lie.”

Lift For The 22 was established by veterans to help fellow veterans. The nonprofit provides gym memberships to help all military transition back into civilian life and prevent veteran suicide.  The program’s name, Lift For The 22, represents the average number of veterans who are lost to suicide every day. 

Nationwide, more than 700 veterans participate in the program, according to Lift For The 22.

Garyn Bowen seemed to be a natural fit for the program.  He told friends he served in the military and provided documentation to back it up.

“He came in very quietly. He said he was a veteran that was a CEO of a company. He didn’t need a free membership but wanted to still be part of the program,” said Wright.

In early spring 2017, Bowen started working out with members of Lift For The 22. He became a fixture at Workout Anytime on Southwest Hall in Beaverton. 

Friends say he boasted about his wealth. Bowen claimed to run a tech company and had various lucrative investments.

“He told people had had multiple houses.  He had access to a private jet.  He had a lot of money,” said Sanders.

Then, Bowen made a promise no one would forget.  Bowen said he wanted to make a large contribution to Lift For The 22.

“Originally, it was a supposed to be $300,000. But then, he said he needed a little bit of tax relief, so it went up to $425,000,” said Wright. 

Lift For The 22 had never received such a large donation in its two years of existence. The funds would allow the nonprofit to pay for the 350 vets who were waiting for gym memberships. The money would also help cover any future requests.

“This is what we needed,” said co-founder Wright.  “We are going to actually be able to give an open invitation to any vet in America. We’re going to get you a free gym membership.”

Lift For The 22 could hardly wait to tell supporters. The nonprofit ordered marketing materials and organized a check presentation party at a restaurant in Beaverton.

On May 27, Wright and Bowen stood side-by-side in front of lights and a camera to stream the announcement live in Facebook. 

“This guy right here.  He’s a vet in our program.  He’s actually making a donation to us,” said an enthusiastic Wright on the Facebook video.  Bowen didn’t speak during the three and a half minute clip. 

More than 10,000 people have viewed the check presentation on the Lift For The 22 Facebook page.  They celebrated with comments like “Incredible” and “This makes my heart so happy.”

Bowen told Wright that he didn’t have the check ready, but assured him it was coming soon. Instead, he’d hand Wright an empty envelope.   

“We kept trying to get the check. Trying to get the check. And there was always some reason,” said Wright, who admits in hindsight there were warning signs.

“He had business cards, he had emails that worked so we didn’t really feel the need to vet him any further than that because all he was trying to do was to support us,” said Wright.  “It was believable. He had a good game.”

As those involved with Lift For The 22 started pushing Bowen for answers, his story got even bigger. He told Wright and others at Lift For the 22 that he owned a supplement company which signed a multi-million dollar deal with GNC. According to Bowen, the nutrition and supplement retailer had promised to match his $425,000 contribution. The money would be coming soon.

Then, something happened that changed everything.

On June 3, Robert Sander’s wallet was stolen from his gym locker. Minutes later, Sanders got an alert on his phone that someone was using his credit card at a nearby Best Buy store.

Store security let Sanders look at surveillance video. Sanders said he immediately recognized the man on leaving the Best Buy. It was Garyn Bowen.

“That’s pretty much what cracked the case,” said Sanders.

Bowen’s story quickly started to unravel as police and Lift For The 22 started to investigate. The nonprofit found Bowen wasn’t the wealthy businessman that he claimed to be.

“I called the company and said I would like to talk to speak with the owner Garyn, and the lady laughed. She said, 'I’m sorry who?',” said Wright.

As word spread about Bowen’s empty promise on social media, new allegations surfaced including claims from an ex-girlfriend. 

“Everything out of his mouth was a complete and total lie,” said Patience Williams, who dated Bowen. “My life has been a Lifetime movie for the past year.”

Williams reported to police that Bowen had stolen her handgun, then sold it at a pawn shop.

Police later arrested Bowen for theft and identity theft, related to the gun and stolen wallet.

On July 10, a Washington County judge sentenced Bowen to 60 days in jail although he is eligible for release on August 4.

It’s not clear why Bowen made a promise he apparently could not fulfill.

Bowen who is being held at the Washington County Corrections Center did not respond to KGW's request for an interview.  

“We want to make sure that the rest of the veteran community knows who he is so nobody else is taken advantage of,” said Wright.

Published on July 31, 2017

A Beaverton-based veterans charity was promised a large donation that did not come through. Video of the presentation was aired on the group's Facebook page on May 27, 2017. (KGW)

 

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