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Marketing firm owner pleads guilty to fraud in Mercyhealth kickback scheme

The owner of two Illinois marketing firms pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal fraud charge for taking part in a kickback scheme with a former Janesville hospital executive convicted of reaping millions of dollars from the scheme.

Ryan Weckerly, 47, of Sycamore, Illinois, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Madison to wire fraud and providing a fraudulent tax document to his partner in the scheme.

As part of the scheme, which lasted from 2015 to 2020, Barbara Bortner, then the vice president of marketing and public relations at Mercyhealth, took inflated invoices from Weckerly for advertising services provided by his companies. The invoices were paid to Weckerly by Mercyhealth. Weckerly then kicked back large sums of the money to Bortner in checks and cash.

In all, 103 checks paid to Bortner’s account by Weckerly totaled nearly $2.1 million, while Weckerly said in court Thursday that he also paid her more than $1 million in cash.

Weckerly faces up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud and up to three years for providing a tax document to Bortner that vastly understated the amount of money she received from Weckerly.

U.S. District Judge William Conley will sentence Weckerly on March 15.

Bortner, 57, of Milton, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion on Oct. 13. She faces up to 25 years in prison when she is sentenced by Conley on Feb. 17.

For both, advisory federal sentencing guidelines make sentences approaching the maximums extremely unlikely.

The total loss to Mercyhealth was stated at $3.1 million. The tax loss to the government for Weckerly’s actions was $30,419. Any sentence he or Bortner receives will include the requirement they pay restitution for the losses. Bortner has agreed she owes the Internal Revenue Service $777,803.

Court documents state that from February 2015 to June 2020, Weckerly sent inflated invoices to Bortner for marketing work his companies, Morningstar Media Group and Invironments, did for Mercyhealth.

Weckerly agreed to send kickbacks to Bortner, and in return, Bortner agreed to continue using Morningstar as the primary marketing agency for Mercyhealth.

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