The former marketing director of Janesville-based Mercyhealth pleaded guilty Thursday to wire fraud and tax evasion, part of a five-year, multimillion-dollar scheme with an alleged accomplice to defraud the health care provider using kickbacks from inflated invoices for marketing services.
Barbara Bortner, 57, of Milton, who was Mercyhealth’s vice president of marketing and public relations, faces up to 25 years in prison when she is sentenced on Feb. 17 by U.S. District Judge William Conley.
Advisory federal sentencing guidelines make a sentence approaching that length extremely unlikely. Under a plea agreement, federal prosecutors agreed to recommend credit for acceptance of responsibility but made no specific sentencing recommendation.
The plea agreement states the loss to Mercyhealth was more than $3.1 million, and the tax loss to the federal government for 2018, the year covering the tax fraud count that was charged against Bortner, was $263,846.
In all, Bortner agreed she owes the Internal Revenue Service $777,803 in restitution for underpaid taxes for all of the years that the scheme was ongoing, the agreement states. An additional restitution figure covering the amount Bortner will have to repay to Mercyhealth will be set when she is sentenced.
Bortner’s alleged accomplice, Ryan Weckerly, 46, of Sycamore, Illinois, is charged with wire fraud and fraud by making false statements. He has agreed to plead guilty to those charges at a hearing scheduled on Nov. 4.
According to a charging document filed on Sept. 1, Bortner conspired with Weckerly, who owned two marketing agencies in Sycamore, Illinois, to bilk Mercyhealth. One of Weckerly’s marketing agencies did business as Invironments, a general lifestyle magazine.
Starting in February 2015, the document states, and lasting until June 2020, Weckerly inflated invoices sent to Bortner for marketing work he did for Mercyhealth.
The two agreed, the document states, that Weckerly would provide kickbacks to Bortner for the money he received from Mercyhealth through the inflated invoices. In return, Bortner agreed to continue using Weckerly’s firm, Morningstar Media Group, as the primary marketing agency for Mercyhealth.
As part of the scheme, Bortner created WeInspire LLC, which was used to disguise the source of kickback payments from Weckerly, and Weckerly created another marketing business called Blank Slate Media LLC.
Weckerly submitted the inflated marketing invoices to Bortner at Mercyhealth from both Morningstar Media Group and Blank Slate Media.
Weckerly transferred some of the money he received from the inflated invoices to a business checking account he created for Invironments magazine. He wrote 103 checks from that account to WeInspire totaling just over $2 million. Bortner deposited most of those checks into an account she created for WeInspire LLC at the Bank of Milton. One check, singled out in one of the charges, was for $70,000.