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Wyoming Catholic College

Process Set For People Who Were Conned By Wyo Catholic College Official To Get Money Back

in Wyoming Catholic College/News
Former Wyo Catholic College CFO Paul McCown

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Anyone bilked out of money by the former chief financial officer of the Wyoming Catholic College will have 30 days to claim part of the $13 million seized from his personal accounts, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl on Monday granted a request from prosecutors to seize the money from 12 accounts held by Paul McCown and use it to repay the people from whom he stole the money. 

Paul McCown, of Lander, pleaded guilty in March to three counts of wire fraud in connection with allegations he exaggerated his own worth to obtain a $14.7 million loan from lending company Ria R Squared.

He also pleaded guilty to allegations he transmitted false information about a home-based gin-distillilng business to the Wyoming Business Council to obtain $841,863 in federal coronavirus relief funds. The coronavirus funds were returned.

As part of a plea agreement, McCown agreed to forfeit about $13.3 million in available funds to the federal government.  

Neither the plea agreement nor the pre-sentence investigation being consulted to craft a felony sentence for McCown are publicly accessible. Skavdahl approved the request of prosecutors to seize McCown’s money and advertise its availability to defrauded parties on www.forfeiture.gov.

The notice has not yet been posted to the website, but once it is posted, the defrauded entities will have 30 days to petition for their legal interest in the property. The federal government also is contacting known victims of the fraud. 

If any money is not claimed within 30 days, the U.S. government “shall have clear title to the subject property” remaining, court documents state. 

Following a petition, a hearing may be held to test the validity of the petitioner’s claim, with false claims punishable by perjury.  

McCown has not yet been sentenced in the case.

McCown faces another legal action, a lawsuit filed against him by Ria R Squared, which is asking the federal court to enter a judgement in its favor in its claims against McCown.  

In documents filed in April, Ria R Squared said since McCown had pleaded guilty to the criminal charges against him, “there is no just reason for delaying the entry of judgement against (McCown).”

The court has not yet ruled on the request.

Catholic College, Top Official Face Trial

In yet another legal action stemming from the case, Ria R Squared is suing the Wyoming Catholic College and Jonathan Tonkowich, the college’s executive vice president, claiming they have yet to return all the money gifted to them by McCown from the loan.

The firm accused both Tonkowich and the college of “conversion and civil theft” and of violating the Uniform Transfers Act by accepting the funds willingly from McCown.

Ria R Squared accused the college of a third count, negligence, claiming the college has “ratified” McCown’s conduct by “refusing to return” a remaining balance. 

McCown had transferred $375,000 to Tonkowich and $10 million to the college, according to court documents. Most of this money has been seized by the FBI.  

But the firm claims that WCC still holds about $239,000 of the balance, and that Tonkowich withheld about $73,870. But the firm claims that WCC still holds about $239,000 of the balance, and that Tonkowich withheld about $73,870. WCC denied the allegation in a January court filing, saying it had spent more than that amount from the $10 million before it found out about McCown’s “conduct.”

Tonkowich denied in February that he’d withheld the $73,870. 

WCC is slated for a jury trial next March; Tonkowich has a bench trial in his civil case slated for next January. 

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Judge Rules Former Wyoming Catholic College CFO Defrauded Firm Of Almost $15M

in News/Crime

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The former chief financial officer of the Wyoming Catholic College defrauded a financial firm out of almost $15 million, a federal judge ruled on Thursday.

In a ruling regarding a lawsuit filed against Paul McCown by Ria R Squared, a financial firm that alleged he defrauded it out of millions in 2021, U.S. District Court Judge Scott W. Skavdahl found that the former CFO was liable for the money he received and then dispersed among other people, including relatives, associates and the Catholic College, which received a $10 million anonymous donation that has since been returned.

The money has never been recovered, though, according to court documents.

“[Ria R Squared] has established its claim of fraud,” the judge wrote.

The company is also entitled to an award of $14.7 million, the amount McCown received from the company last year. According to the federal charges, McCown twice sent emails to Ria R Squared to transmit loan documents to the company and then used wire transfers to take possession of the loan.

In October, McCown requested to stop proceedings on the lawsuit, pending completion of an FBI investigation against him.

Last week, McCown was charged with wire fraud, in connection with allegations he improperly applied for and received more than $800,000 in federal coronavirus assistance. He could face up to 140 years in prison for the seven charges and a fine of almost $1.8 million.

According to the federal charges, McCown submitted false claims that his company, McCown Enterprises, lost money because of the coronavirus. He applied for a total of more than $800,000 in assistance from the programs. 

McCown did agree to return all the money given to him by the WBC, the documents said, totaling $841,863.

The documents ask that McCown be forced to forfeit to the United States “any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the offenses.”

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Judge Denies Delaying Lawsuit Against Former Wyoming Catholic College CFO

in News

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A lawsuit filed against a former Wyoming Catholic College official accused of defrauding an investment company of $15 million can proceed while his actions are investigated by federal authorities, a judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl, in an order issued Monday, refused Paul McCown’s request to stop proceedings on the lawsuit against him filed by Ria R Squared pending completion of the FBI investigation.

“In considering the various factors and the surrounding circumstances, the court finds a stay is not appropriate in this case,” the order said.

McCown is accused of falsifying financial documents and posing as a bank official to convince Ria R Squared to loan him $15 million.

According to the lawsuit, within minutes of obtaining the loan, McCown transferred most of the money to other people, including relatives, associates and Wyoming Catholic College, where he served as chief financial officer. The college has since returned the $10 million it received.

McCown asked the federal court to stop any action on the lawsuit for 90 days until the FBI could complete its investigation of his actions.

But Skavdahl said since McCown has not yet been indicted or charged with any crimes, it would be best to move ahead with the lawsuit.

“The lack of any current criminal charges means the interests of the court and the public weigh in favor of moving forward in an expeditious manner,” the order said.

Skavdahl noted that in some cases, a danger exists that a person being sued might say something in his or her defense that could be used against that person in a criminal proceeding, meaning the person’s right against self-incrimination would be put at risk.

However, he said since McCown has already invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege to respond to Ria R Squared’s lawsuit, there is no danger he might surrender that right in criminal proceedings.

“…McCown has already chosen to risk the loss in this civil case by exercising his Fifth Amendment right in order to avoid risking conviction in any criminal action,” the ruling said. “A stay of proceedings now cannot protect that which (McCown seeks) to protect.”

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Wyoming’s Second Four-Year College – Wyoming Catholic College – is a True Wyoming Success Story

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Wyoming Catholic College
All the Wyoming Catholic College students, faculty, and staff get together after the Convocation Mass in front of Holy Catholic Church in Lander. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

LANDER – Wyoming’s second four–year college had an exciting weekend recently when it welcomed 54 new freshmen back to ground level after they spent three weeks bonding in the towering nearby mountains.

Wyoming Catholic College, entering its 15th year of existence since its incorporation in 2005, welcomed its 13th freshmen class during convocation and matriculation ceremonies Aug. 25-26.

WCC President Glenn Abery
WCC President Glenn Arbery (right) stands with Chef Bruce Lee at a barbecue for students returning from their mountain experience. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

The Catholic school is unusual in many ways. One of the most distinctive is its outdoor program.  Each fall, all the incoming freshmen go on a 21-day wilderness expedition in the mountains. This year the freshman women went into the Wind River Mountains near Lander and the men traveled into the Teton Mountain Range outside of Jackson.

Another unusual aspect is that all the students take the same liberal arts-based curriculum through their four years at WCC.  The program is based on the “Great Books” — a collection of books considered to be classic literature — and on Catholic Theology.

A third unique aspect of the college is its horsemanship program. All students are required to learn to ride and it is an integral part of their learning.

The student body now has 179 students who come from all over the country.  Enrollment should surpass 200 students within a few years, with an ultimate goal of no more than 400.

There are 19 faculty members, with Dr. Kyle Washut of Casper serving as the acting dean. The school contributes about $4 million a year to the Lander area economy, according to Paul McCown, the controller. The school uses buildings all over Lander for its housing and activities. The main location is in downtown Lander, where it leases three large two-story buildings.  It also uses a classroom building that formerly housed students of Central Wyoming College. A former Legion Hall has been re-named Frassati Hall, and serves as a dining room and student union.

Most religious activities are at Holy Rosary Catholic Church, but the College also has its own small chapel inside the Baldwin Building at 306 Main Street.

Wyoming Catholic College Oath
The faculty at WCC line up to be recognized during Matriculation ceremonies recently in Lander. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

The idea of a four-year Catholic college in Wyoming was first conceived by former Wyoming Bishop David Ricken, now of Green Bay, Wisconsin.  He mentioned the idea during a summer program on Casper Mountain in the early 2000s called the Wyoming School of Catholic Thought.

Bishop Ricken was joined by Casper College Professor Dr. Robert Carlson and Casper priest Fr. Bob Cook in figuring out how to bring the school to reality. They, along with a committee that included Ray Hunkins of Cheyenne, entertained 49 different statewide proposals for where to locate the college before settling on Lander, Wheatland, and Cody. The final choice was Lander, partially because a ranch was donated to the effort by Francine Mortenson in memory of her late husband Chris. Chris Mortenson had been a prominent real estate developer in San Diego and had purchased their Lander ranch from Johnny and Jeanne Lee some years earlier.

The Lander community also raised $300,000 in donations, which a group called the Cornerstone Committee gave to the school with no strings attached. The local Knights of Columbus donated $100,000 of that total.

In 2007, the school had hired a small faculty and enrolled its first class of 35 students. It took just two years from its first public mention to when students were taking classes. On May 14, 2011, history was made when 30 of those original students received the first diplomas from Wyoming Catholic College.  Wyoming could honestly say it now had two four-year college campus programs.

Folks at the college are not shy about referring to some amazing coincidences (miracles?) or at least, answered prayers, which have occurred along its amazing journey to reality. 

Wyoming Catholic College Freshman Signing
All freshmen sign a big leather book indicating their beginnings of their education at WCC during Matriculation ceremonies. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

The school does not participate in any federal student loan programs and refuses to be beholden to anything from the federal government. It survives on student tuition and a large national base of donors. Without any alumni or even an established donor base to draw upon, the college succeeded because of thousands of people believing in the need for such an institution.

By 2011, with the help of millions of dollars in donations from more than 10,000 families across the country, the college achieved its goal of providing graduates with a high-quality education.

Fr. Cook, the first president of the college, liked to point out that although the first name of the college is Wyoming, it was truly a national college with students from 37 different states by 2011.

Although just about everything involving WCC is conservative in nature, what it provides for its students is a “liberal, classical education” based on the Great Books.

Current president Dr. Glenn Arbery says that all students take the same courses.

“Our mission is to form the whole person, physically, mentally, and spiritually. We want our students to take away as much as they can carry of the great wealth of the tradition of Western civilization. We need young people confident in their faith and capable of independent thought, and we know that each of them will have the ability to think clearly and to speak effectively. They will be leaders out in the greater world,” he says.

Wyoming Catholic College
All the Wyoming Catholic College students, faculty, and staff get together after the Convocation Mass in front of Holy Catholic Church in Lander. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

The college received its full accreditation last fall.  From day one, perhaps the most interesting things about the college, among many unique aspects, has been the outdoor leadership program.

WCC originally teamed up with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in Lander to provide an outdoor education course for incoming freshmen that educates them on the outdoors, teaches them leadership plus bonds them together as they continue their studies for four years.  In recent years, the school had enough faculty and graduates that it now provides its own leaders for these expeditions.

It is easy to write a column about the nuts and bolts of the college but the key thing anyone discovers when involved with WCC is the quality of the students.

My wife Nancy and I know these are the finest young people.  Incredibly smart and pure of heart, they are almost impossibly optimistic.  When you deal with these future leaders, you know the future is in good hands.

As a disclaimer I should point out that I was on the original local committee that helped get the college started.

This is a true Wyoming success story.  This is the story of how a miracle can occur out on the frontier, even in pessimistic times. 

President Arbery reminds that the college is always looking for donors and this would be a wonderful time to give.  The college web site is www.wyomingcatholic.edu and its mailing address is Box 750, Lander WY 82520.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

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