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Published in Print: February 24, 1999, as Philanthropist Reneges on College Scholarships

Philanthropist Reneges on College Scholarships

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It was a deal too good to be true.

A Houston businessman promised one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia a renewable, $10,000 merit-based scholarship and a shot at the American dream.

Instead, Val Adams, the founder of the Houston-based marketing and promotions company AdamsVision Inc., handed out heartbreak, reneging on the scholarships one semester after the 51 students had started their college careers and leaving their families scrambling for funds.

Colleges and universities around the country have received the same three-line letter over the past two months, informing school officials that the company would "not be financially able to honor scholarships."

The students' "first step out into adult life has become a scam," said Susan V. Bowlin, whose daughter Melissa was the scholarship recipient from Alaska and is now a freshman at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Both she and her husband are teachers, Ms. Bowlin said. "We can't come up with $30,000 a year."

Best Intentions

The company had had every intention of funding the scholarships, said Dale Jefferson, Mr. Adams' lawyer. The money was to come from the proceeds of a pay-per-view television business that failed, he said.

Mr. Adams "is hoping that corporate America will pick up on this tragic situation" and help the students, Mr. Jefferson said in an interview last week.

That does little to console students and their parents, however.

"When somebody is holding out their hand to help you, you don't question it," said Kendra Young, the scholarship recipient from Montana and a freshman at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.

Ms. Young said she turned down a full scholarship at the University of Montana because she thought she had enough money to attend Grinnell, a selective, private liberal arts school. Without the aid from Mr. Adams, she said, she'll be forced to withdraw at the end of the semester.

Applications were mailed to every high school principal in the nation, according to Jean Lockhart, the chairwoman of the 15-member AdamsVision USA Scholar-Leadership Award selection committee. Applicants were judged on their grades, standardized-test scores, community service, and character.

This is not the first time Mr. Adams has failed to fulfill his promises, said John Boone, the assistant district attorney in Harris County, Texas, and the chief of the county's check-fraud division.

Mr. Adams' record includes several convictions starting in the early 1980s for passing bad checks, Mr. Boone said. Mr. Adams is currently on probation.

"The deal about his past might have been relevant if he was collecting [money] or if he was profiting from this," responded Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Adams' lawyer. But that was not the case, he said.

Vol. 18, Issue 24, Page 5

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