This article originally appeared in the June 27, 2017 issue of The Western News. View clip online. Award: 1st place investigative news story, Div. 2: Weekly newspapers, Montana Newspaper Association 2018 Better Newspaper Contest.
Libby Area Chamber of Commerce Board President Robert Calvin “Bob” Henline — who on Monday said he resigned last week — fabricated portions of his resume to gain employment in the community, an investigation by The Western News has revealed.
In addition, he pleaded guilty to forgery, a third-degree felony, in 2001 and identity fraud, also a third-degree felony, in 2010. In the latter case he pleaded guilty in abeyance and it was dismissed two years later without prejudice.
Henline — who also serves on the board of the CARD Foundation, is director of Kootenai Country Montana and through his company Kootenai Media does work in external affairs for Hecla Montana — is a former reporter and editor for this newspaper.
When applying to work at The Western News in 2014, Henline wrote that he earned a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and a master’s degree from Georgetown University.
Henline repeated those credentials in an interview with former Western News reporter Phil Johnson, who introduced Henline to readers in an article dated October 24, 2014. Henline told Johnson he graduated from Boston University in 1990 with a degree in history, philosophy and political science, and that upon graduation from there he enrolled in the master of public administration program at Georgetown University. Both his job application and his Linkedin profile state that he received the latter degree.
Henline apparently has provided the same education credentials to at least one organization in Libby other than The Western News. His biographical statement on the website of the CARD Foundation, on whose board he serves, includes both degrees.
In addition, Henline mentions both degrees — but not the institutions — on the website of Kootenai Media, a “Libby-based communications, marketing and publishing firm” that names him as founder and president.
Henline also said in his interview with Johnson that he played football at Boston University and that his interest in journalism stemmed from an article he wrote that was published in the Salt Lake Tribune.
The Western News was unable to verify any of these statements in its recent investigation.
Colin Riley, executive director of media relations at Boston University, said via email that “there is a former student with that name who attended BU, but there is no record of his having received a degree. The Registrar’s Office says he was enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts, which is now known as the College of Arts and Sciences.”
Riley couldn’t provide Henline’s transcript, instead referring The Western News to the National Student Clearinghouse, which provides degree verification services. According to a report from that organization, Henline was classified as “no degree, enrollment only” from Sept. 1, 1988 to May 1, 1989. A transcript was not provided.
When asked whether Henline had graduated from Georgetown University, that college’s Media Relations Manager Ryan King said via email, “We have no one in our registrar’s database with that name.”
Henline told Johnson he “stumbled into playing football” at Boston University after a football coach saw him “messing around on the football field one day with friends.” According to Brian Kelley, assistant athletic director for communications at Boston University, “there has never been a football player here with that name. I looked throughout that era and it would appear that claim is false.”
It appears Henline did attend the University of Utah from Autumn 1989 to Autumn 1991, according to an email from Melissa Perritt, assistant supervisor in the school’s registration and records division. In the Autumn 1992 newsletter of the university’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, Henline is referred to as a senior studying political science and philosophy.
However, Henline “did not earn a degree at the University of Utah,” she wrote.
When reached by phone Monday, Henline said “that’s interesting” when told neither Boston University or Georgetown list him as having been awarded a degree.
“I don’t know what to tell you about that,” he said. “My classes that I took through the University of Utah were joint classes with Boston University. All my coursework was transferred to BU.”
Henline was unable to produce either diploma, he said, because they are in storage in Wyoming and “I have no way to get to it.”
The investigation into Henline came about as The Western News began reporting about the efficacy of the chamber. During Monday’s phone interview Henline said he resigned from the organization last Tuesday because he has “just too much on my plate right now.”
Henline’s resignation wasn’t official as of Monday morning, according to Board Vice President Amber Holm.
“I haven’t gotten it in writing yet, but we have had the conversation as a board and with Bob,” Holm said. “We felt like it would be best if Bob stepped down from the board … because of the article that The Western News is writing.”
Holm admitted not knowing any details of the article, only that she has heard “hearsay” from community and other chamber members and had read a list of questions The Western News emailed to the board June 6.
Holm said that her understanding was that “the article will reflect poorly on the Chamber of Commerce should we continue to have Bob on our board.”
Henline resigned from The Western News on May 26, 2016. Former Libby Mayor Doug Roll on March 23, 2017, filed suit against The Western News for alleged defamation, civil conspiracy and actual malice related to newspaper articles written by Henline.
Regarding his background as a journalist, Henline told the Western News in 2014 that he “began his journalism career when the Salt Lake Tribune published an investigative story he wrote exposing the illicit transportation of toxic waste.”
“I see no evidence that he wrote for us,” Matt Canham, senior managing editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, said via email.
Henline might have been referring to a column he reportedly wrote for the Transcript-Bulletin of Tooele, a city to the west of Salt Lake City. Paul Rolly of the Salt Lake Tribune wrote in a May 30, 2009, column that Henline had “been told his work is no longer welcome at the paper after he told other journalists the Tooele paper killed a column he wrote that was critical of EnergySolutions,” among the country’s largest nuclear waste disposal companies.
Rolly wrote that “Henline had written a column about the leak of hazardous material from EnergySolutions’ Tooele County site and the fact the truck carrying the material had merely a duct tape cover over the leak.”
Nexis and Google searches reveal that in addition to the Transcript-Bulletin, Henline’s columns appeared occasionally in City Weekly, Salt Lake City’s alternative newspaper, and regularly in Q Salt Lake, a publication that serves a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender audience. Henline is still listed as an assistant editor on the latter publication’s website, though his last column, bidding his readers farewell before moving to Libby, was published online Oct. 22, 2014.
The same searches show that although Henline didn’t write for the Salt Lake Tribune, that newspaper occasionally wrote about him. Henline was active in Utah’s Democratic party, and in 2011 he ran a losing campaign to be state party secretary.
As for Henline’s criminal history, it shows financial misbehavior in the late 1990s that resulted in a conviction in 2001. That year, on April 12, Henline pleaded guilty to forgery, a third-degree felony, in Third District Court in the Salt Lake County city of Sandy, Utah.
Court documents show that in addition to forgery he originally faced two counts of theft by deception — one count a third-degree felony, the other a class A misdemeanor — and one count of issuing a bad check or draft, a third-degree felony.
The charges stemmed from a series of incidents in which Henline withdrew cash by depositing checks from closed bank accounts and wrote bad checks to a doctor and a title company. In addition, after the doctor complained, Henline forged a letter from the credit union — signing it as a credit union employee — to blame the bounced check on a credit union error.
Henline was sentenced Aug. 2, 2001. According to court documents, he received a prison term “not to exceed five years in the Utah State Prison” that was suspended, and he was sentenced to seven days in the Salt Lake County Jail to start by 8 a.m. August 10.
Further, he was placed on 36 months probation with conditions including 100 hours of community service and that he “maintain full time employment and/or schooling.”
Henline was also ordered to pay restitution to three unnamed parties totaling $8,078.24 plus interest with the first payment due Sept. 5, 2001 and final payment due Jan. 5, 2003.
Records show that on March 18, 2002, a warrant for Henline’s arrest was issued for failure to comply with probation, and on July 3, 2002, his restitution accounts were sent to the Utah State Office of Debt Collection.
Henline wasn’t arrested on that warrant until August 29, 2003, in Price, Utah, when that city’s Police Chief Aleck Shilaos “received a phone call from Adult Probation and Parole in regards to a fugitive which had a $25,000 warrant,” according to the arrest report. Henline had been identified as working at the Sun Advocate newspaper in Price. Henline was arrested on that and two additional warrants — stemming from a theft of services misdemeanor case from 1999 and traffic infractions from an unknown date — and placed in the Carbon County Jail. On or about Sept. 9 he was transferred to Salt Lake County Jail, where he remained in custody until Sept. 12.
On Oct. 10, the court ordered Henline’s probation terminated and the case closed.
“However,” a court document states, “if there is more restitution owing, this case may be reopened.”
The document doesn’t indicate how, whether or when Henline settled his restitution accounts. In response to a GRAMA (Government Records Access and Management Act) request seeking that information, the Utah Division of Administrative Services provided a document showing only that Henline has a zero balance with the state’s Division of Finance.
In between the incidents that led to his prosecution and conviction, court records show that Henline twice filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy — which allows a debtor to keep designated property and repay certain debts over time — in 1999 and 2000. Both cases were dismissed.
“If the case is dismissed it is most generally because the debtors fell behind in making their plan payment to the trustee,” an unnamed bankruptcy court clerk explained via email. “Which appears to be the case in this instance, so the case was dismissed for failure to make plan payments.”
Henline’s identity theft case stemmed from incidents from between July and October 2008 in which he allegedly purchased a laptop computer on his former wife’s credit card. Henline pleaded guilty in abeyance June 22, 2010 to identity fraud, a third-degree felony, and theft, a class A misdemeanor. Both charges were dismissed without prejudice two years later.
“My ex-wife accused me of using a credit card in her name during a custody dispute,” Henline explained in Monday’s phone call. “The judge let me plead guilty to it and pay off the $500 or whatever the hell it was and dismiss the case.”
Holm on Monday said she did not know about Henline’s felony convictions.
“Bob told me last week that he had gotten himself into some financial trouble and made some bad choices to get himself out of it,” she said. “That’s all I know about it.”
Zach McNew, president of the CARD Foundation, said Monday that Henline told him recently about the forgery but not that it was a felony.
“I don’t know exactly what the charges were,” he said, adding that he did not know about the identity theft conviction.
Whether new knowledge of the charges would preclude Henline’s further service on the CARD Foundation board is “something I’ll take up with the board,” McNew said.
In addition to the two felony convictions, court records show Henline has been the defendant in numerous cases involving tax liens, child support, theft of services, small claims and unpaid rent and student loans. For a number of these cases, warrants were issued for Henline’s failure to pay as required or for failure to appear in court.