The owner of an Illinois marketing firm who was part of a multimillion-dollar kickback scheme with the director of marketing for Janesville-based Mercyhealth was sentenced Friday to a year and a day in prison for his role in the scheme, and for tax evasion.
U.S. District Judge William Conley acknowledged that Ryan Weckerly, 48, of Sycamore, Illinois, was put into a difficult spot by Barbara Bortner, who was vice president of marketing at Mercyhealth, when she asked him to take part in the scheme, because if he had declined he risked losing the business of Mercyhealth, the largest client of his firm, Morningstar Media Group.
But Conley said Weckerly should have found a way to get out of the arrangement, perhaps by bringing it to the attention of someone at Mercyhealth, but “he did not.”
Conley said Bortner, an executive at large and growing Mercyhealth, “had tremendous leverage” over Weckerly’s small company, but Weckerly was able to rationalize the arrangement and “got deeper and deeper into a very serious crime.”
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The loss to Mercyhealth was $3.1 million. Weckerly and Bortner were ordered to pay $2.4 million in restitution, to be divided proportionally.
In addition to the year in prison, Conley ordered Weckerly to spend three years on supervised release, the first six months of which will be spent on home detention, with very limited exceptions, to help care for his special-needs children.
Bortner, 57, of Milton, was sentenced in May to 3½ years in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion.
The arrangement between Bortner and Weckerly ran from 2015 to 2020. Weckerly submitted inflated invoices to Mercyhealth for services provided by his marketing firm, then kicked back the excess money he received from Mercyhealth to Bortner, who would continue using Weckerly’s firm as Mercyhealth’s primary marketing agency.
Weckerly, in a statement in court, agreed that what he did was wrong, adding, “I wish I was brave enough to say no to (Bortner).”
He said he’s in the process of shuttering his business.
Conley interrupted Weckerly as Weckerly described the consequences of the case for his family, in particular, his special-needs children. Conley said he has no doubt about the effects on Weckerly’s family, which were presented in detail in writing, but needed to hear more about why Weckerly committed the crimes.
Sentencing arguments were presented almost entirely in writing, in documents that were filed under seal. But arguments that were presented live in court were spirited, with Conley cutting off arguments he said were already made in writing, or flat-out telling Weckerly, his attorney and even Mercyhealth’s chief financial officer, who provided an in-court victim impact statement, where he disagreed with them.
Todd Anderson, Mercyhealth’s CFO, asked that Weckerly be punished to the greatest extent the law allowed. He said the matter hurt the company not only financially but reputationally. Conley responded that Mercyhealth cannot diminish the role that its own employee played in Weckerly’s crime, or that Mercyhealth appeared to lack oversight that allowed a single person to sign off on contracts.
“I hope the lesson is learned,” Conley said, “that there’s a need for better control.”
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