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'Alarm bells weren't ringing': Xavier student becomes latest victim of prolific Cincinnati conman

Xavier University police say Michael Bowlin has been scamming Cincinnatians since 2008
Michael Bowlin
Posted at 9:16 PM, May 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-24 21:16:32-04

CINCINNATI — Authorities say a conman responsible for scamming Cincinnatians off and on for more than a decade is prowling the streets once again.

This time, a Xavier University student said he's one of the latest victims.

"It was one of those things where alarm bells weren't ringing," Abdul Abe said.

Abe said he was helping his girlfriend move out of her dorm when 38-year-old Michael Bowlin approached them.

He said Bowlin told him he was a veteran who was currently a staff sergeant with UC's Army ROTC program. Abe said he was polite and patient and told him his phone was broken and he needed to retrieve his car, which had been impounded the night before.

"He was telling me about where he was stationed, how he was at Camp Pendleton, different places, how we went and served in Desert Storm. His age added up," Abe said. "I compared all this information with my uncles — my uncles served."

Abe said he eventually went with Bowlin to an ATM and took out $100 his mom had wired him. He gave the money to Bowlin with the promise he would be reimbursed, but he never saw Bowlin again, he said.

He said he only learned of Bowlin's real identity after he called the ROTC office and they told him he was scammed. Abe said Bowlin told him he was someone who, if you look up the organization's cadre online, is a real staff sergeant in the program.

"When we hear these stories about service members in need and stuff like that we naturally are more inclined to help them so that's kind of how he got me," he said.

The story Bowlin gave Abe is the same one he allegedly tells all his victims.

"This is an individual who's been practicing this since 2008 when he first started as a police impersonator," said Robert Warfel, chief of Xavier University police and director of public safety.

Court records show Bowlin's years-long scamming spree began in 2008. In the years since he's been charged with drug possession and theft, among other charges.

Warfel said when his department learned Bowlin was back in the area, they pushed out alerts on social media.

"We wanted to be certain that our campus community was aware of it," he said. "Forearmed is forewarned or forewarned is forearmed — to try and avoid other people becoming victims."

WCPO first reported his alleged ruse in 2017, when UC's ROTC warned the community three people had fallen victim on the same day.

"In some instances, he’s claimed to be a Purple Heart recipient w/ PTSD and he needs to get back to his unit," the organization posted on its Facebook page during that time.

Bowlin will allegedly often plan out his scams at times when the ROTC office is closed then leave messages while victims are listening to back up his story. The organization said he did it in 2017.

"This is Staff Sgt. Bowlin. I need someone to answer the on-call emergency. I've had an accident. I'd appreciate it — my phone is kind of smashed," an old message said.

Major Michael Carey said Bowlin is doing it again, and it's even gotten to a point they've added a disclaimer to their voicemail warning people about Bowlin, telling them to not give him money and instead report him to authorities.

"We don't want the black eye if you will on our organization that somebody's out there representing us and it's just false," said Carey, who serves as executive officer in the program.

Carey said they've posted BOLO flyers for Bowlin on the entrances to the ROTC office.

While Carey and Abe said they want to see legal repercussions, stopping Bowlin could prove challenging.

Though perhaps breaking moral codes, Warfel said Bowlin isn't technically breaking any laws.

"It's a very fine gray line," he said. "If he's not demonstrating any false credentials, if he doesn't hold himself out with any official documentation or uniform then he does escape that."

Abe said he's working with a UC detective to compile more reports against Bowlin and he's taking his case to the courts.

In the meantime, he's ready with a clear message for Bowlin if he ever sees him again.

"Tell him, you know, there's a civil lawsuit," Abe said. "Check your mail. It'll be coming soon."

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