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New Hanover Co. schools looking to hire contractor previously convicted of fraud

READ MORE: New Hanover Co. schools looking to hire contractor previously convicted of fraud

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- The New Hanover Board of Education was considering hiring a contractor who was previously convicted of fraud. In February, Lee Cowper, a Wilmington commercial contractor, pled guilty to federal mail fraud. The school board's design consultant for a renovation project at Wrightsboro Elementary School has reportedly recommended Cowper for the job.

County Commission Chairman Jonathon Barfield is calling the move by the school board 'not good.'

“Although he's a great contractor, he's already admitted to defrauding one government entity, which is the county ABC Board,” said Barfield.

Cowper was convicted of mail fraud after allegedly devising a scheme to defraud the New Hanover County ABC Board into overpaying him $43,000 for the construction of a Porters Neck ABC store in 2006.

The county school board was scheduled to discuss bids for the Wrightsboro Elementary project Tuesday, but decided to table it until their August 2nd meeting. Barfield says he thinks it's a good idea.

“I don't know that the school board members were fully aware that this was going to be on their agenda, but I think they made the right call,” said Barfield.

Cowper's bid for the project was $1.4 million, which was not the lowest offer. Chairman Barfield says he doesn't see Cowper getting the bid from the school board.

“I think wisdom will prevail and the other businesses will that have bids on this project and I just wouldn't see them moving forward with utilizing that particular company,” said Barfield

Cowper's sentencing for the fraud conviction is scheduled for some time in September.

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In light of what is already

In light of what is already known about Lee Cowper he should not have been able to bid on any upcoming projects for NHC and for Don Hayes to get on TV and say he didn't know about Cowper is bullsh*t, plain and simple, but according to news reports this guy may be awarded the job anyway since he was the lowest bidder. Why this school board would try to pull something like this over on the taxpayers of NHC is beyond me, makes me wonder what else have they done???


I'm flabbergasted that the members of the School Board are ignorant of recent local news and the current events of New Hanover County.

I'm shocked that no one on the Board was able to put "2 and 2 together" and realize who Lee Cowper is, and were also seemingly clueless about his murky history.

I find it troubling that the members of the Board of Education seem to have their collective heads in the sand.

New Hanover County is a small community and to be unaware about the players involved in the ABC scandal reflects a high level of ignorance of the news and current events in our community.

I will write letters to each of these individuals expressing my concerns.

As a tax payer in New Hanover County I cannot abide by such incompetence and poor judgement.

The more events like these occur, the more and more troubled I become by the inferior caliber of individuals we as citizens continue to place in office.

Stupid is IF Stupid does......

Is the BOE NUTS? There is no need for discussion, none. This man is a convicted felon, a thief. He committed fraud on the Citizens of New Hanover County and He thinks it's OK to continue doing work for New Hanover County? Not. What is worse, The BOE has to consider this? Enough Already!!!!

Lee Cowper - convicted of mail fraud

Mr. Lee Cowper was convicted of FEDERAL MAIL FRAUD. He should not even have a license to do business in the state of North Carolina. To reward this person's misdeeds with a government contract in New Hanover County would be a miscarriage of justice. Heck it would even put New Hanover on the same level as Columbus County and nobody wants that, do they?

I'd give him a chance, because...

After all, he DID cooperate fully when confronted. Let's face it, if he hadn't gone along with Williams' plan, he'd have lost the ABC contracts, lost favor with the "good ol' boys'" club, and likely not have worked in NHC or maybe even Eastern NC again. I say there should be a federal racketeering charge levied against Williams as well.

Do you not get it?

He's PART of the good ol' boys network. That's why he did the old wink-wink, nudge-nudge on the ABC/Williams scam. That likely would have insured him the next contract coming down the line.

Well, they got caught, he's a convicted felon, but guess what - he's in line to get this contract anyway because New Hanover County politicians, apparently at all levels, have absolutely no judgment or sense of protecting the taxpayers' money. This is the Republican dominated school board, too - any wonder why I proudly left the Republican Party and became a Libertarian? Too many people devoid of brains or devoid of ethics.

"Let's hand the job of guarding the henhouse over to Mister Fox. He's a nice guy."

Is there ANY behavior....any behavior AT ALL, that we will not excuse or justify these days?


Maybe he can have a chance after he is sentenced and serves his time in federal prison.

Just sayin'

Stupid is as stupid does....

Some of The New Hanover Board of Education members need their heads examined. This guy is a criminal! When does our society stop rewarding people for being such.



From the story: “I think wisdom will prevail and the...."

Sure, our local government uses wisdom daily. They often make smart decisions.

"Not good?"

That may be the understatement of the year!

How is Cowper even allowed to bid on governmnetal projects after his guilty plea to mail fraud and complicity in defrauding the county ABC board?

We obviously need a state law that bans convicted felons from even bidding on government contracts for five or seven years. We MUST start tackling this entrenched corruption that thrives in this state and positively runs rampant in this county.

Barfield, I have to seriously question how "great" a contractor can be when he just plead guilty to a serious crime involving fraud. I guess that's the county commissioner equivalent of all those who get on here and claim that every gang-banger and drug dealer found shot dead in the street was such a "good boy."

Lee Cowper

Mr. Cowper is an extremely nice man and has answered all questions in regards to the ABC investigation even to the point that his cooperation is a helping the case against Mr. Williams. He employs quite a few people located in the Cape Fear Region not just his employees but subs too so it would be sad if the other bids were from out of town contractors that only use out of town workers. I feel Mr. Cowper admitted to his wrong doing and is ready to move on. I am sure he knows good and well that all the work he does will be scutinized and I am also sure he would never, never let something like that happen again and also realizes the penalties if something did.

Nice Guy???

Sure, he is a nice guy that will be spending some time in prison soon. Part of his sentence will probably preclude him from working on government jobs.

Did you forget the part that the conspired with Billy to steal money from the taxpayers? Part of the punishment will be the loss of revenues far in excess of what he was caught stealing.

There are plenty of locally qualified contractors to perform this work. If you still feel sorry for Lee, you can just give him some more of your hard earned money.


I want to know where all the bidders and what their "homebase" locations are? I am telling you that Lee generally cares about the people around him. He messed up and he is paying for it. This should NOT affect the employees and their families. If you were to add all his good deeds vs. one mess up it would probably be 1 million to one.
Point being he does good work and employs A LOT of people in the area unlike contractors from Raleigh, Greenville, etc. who take the money and run. KEEP THE JOBS IN WILMINGTON!!!
The people who disagree are probably the same people that buy everything off the internet. Sure it's a little more expensive to buy locally but in the long run it helps everyone in the area.

Wanna Bet?

Wanna bet you're one of those people he employed...or you at least are related or are a friend to one of those people? Why else would you defend a convicted felon?

Blame Cowper, not reasonable steps to protect taxpayers

I don't care if his employees get a Jaguar for Christmas every year, I don't care if they'll all be unemployed without this one contract (a rather insane notion), and I don't care if he changes water into wine while restoring eyesight to the blind.

He is a convicted felony, convicted of a crime directly related to defrauding taxpayers.

He should not be allowed to bid on another contract anytime soon.

Everyone says that John Dillinger was a nice guy, too.

Mister Cowper is a convicted felon. He was a key party in defrauding tens of thousands of dollars from the people of North Carolina.

That's not an accidental mistake. That's not an innocent oversight. It's basically a statement of, "Yeah, I know you're stealing, but I'm not going to say anything. I'll just help you out."

You're comfortable with allowing him to be awarded another government contract? How stupid can we be?

We need a law that bars convicted felons from bidding on governmnet contracts for a reasonable period of time. It's not a matter of punishment, it's a matter of fiduciary responsibility to protect the taxpayer's interests.

You know this is kinda funny

You know this is kinda funny because the school board is screaming we dont have any money so lets lay some teachers off (that teach our children) but lets go with one of the highest biders on the Wrightsboro School renovations....REALLY...OK New Hanover School Board here it is in real easy terms for you..You dont go with a high bid when you have multiple lower bids by contractors that have not commited any crimes out there!!!!!So if they are hurting for money as they claim why would they go with the high bid?? I don't know mabey I am using COMMON SENSE!!!!!! Mabey some of them need to jump on the reality train and just mabey the education system would have a chance,but I guess as long as we allow people like that to run our school system there is no hope for these children now a days....


The way I remember it, he didn't defraud the ABC Board, the ABC Board got him to write in the work order as if he were working on a government project ( the ABC renovations ) while in fact he was working on one of their personal properties. To me, it's cut and dry. The ABC Board member who had him do that was actually defrauding the government and should be prosecuted. This man was just providing a service.

He was providing a service

He was providing a service alright. He knew that what he was doing was illegal. I cannot believe that New Hanover would take any bids from him.

Excuse me....

Some part of this you didn't grasp?

Cowper was convicted of mail fraud after allegedly devising a scheme to defraud the New Hanover County ABC Board into overpaying him $43,000 for the construction of a Porters Neck ABC store in 2006.

And he pleaded guilty to said charge.... AS I remember it....

Now to be fair they should have all been locked up. Bunch of damn thieves IMHO.

That's a stupid statement to make.

"This man was just providing a service." Righto there Einstein, a "service to Billy Williams"! He knew exactly what he was doing and he was CONVICTED for it!

In case you haven't read any current events lately, Billy Williams will soon be on trial.

I would suppose you are one of those that thinks just because you happen to have bought known stolen property and possess it, you aren't guilty of a crime, right? Well...that is if you don't get caught, I suppose. You should go back and study a little legal theory before making your next purchase.

So he didn't think that was wrong?

Judgment and ethics aren't required if you're doing work for the government?

He KNEW that money was being misappropriated and went along with it! He's lucky he wasn't convicted of conspiracy!