MADISON – Timothy M. O’Shea, United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, announced that Barbara Bortner, 57, Milton, Wisconsin, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge William M. Conley to 3 ½ years in prison for wire fraud and tax evasion. Bortner, the former Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at Mercyhealth in Janesville, pleaded guilty to these charges on October 14, 2021.
The government’s investigation revealed that between 2015 and 2020, Bortner and co-defendant Ryan Weckerly engaged in a kickback scheme in which Weckerly submitted inflated invoices to Bortner for his marketing work for Mercyhealth. Once Bortner approved his marketing invoices, Weckerly received payments from Mercyhealth and provided money to Bortner using either cash or checks. In return for the payments, Bortner agreed to use Weckerly’s business, Morningstar Media Group, as the primary marketing agency for Mercyhealth.
In order to disguise the true nature of the kickback payments, Bortner created a fictitious company named WeInspire LLC. During the timeframe of the kickback scheme, Weckerly wrote over 103 checks to WeInspire LLC from one of his business accounts. The cumulative total of these checks was $2,051,975. In addition, bank records show that Weckerly provided Bortner with over $1,000,000 in cash kickback payments. Based on the government’s financial analysis of Weckerly’s accounting and bank records, the total monetary amount of the fraud was $3,136,200.72.
The Internal Revenue Service initiated an audit of Bortner’s individual tax returns in May 2019. During the audit, Bortner represented to an IRS Revenue Agent during an interview that WeInspire was a legitimate company that performed marketing work for one of Weckerly’s businesses. In the months following the interview with the IRS Revenue Agent, Bortner continued to receive kickback payments from Weckerly.
At the sentencing hearing, Judge Conley stated that the kickback scheme was a “very substantial crime” that was motivated entirely by Bortner’s greed. Judge Conley also stated that Bortner earned a very generous salary at Mercyhealth and had no pressing need for the money she stole. Judge Conley also noted that rather than stop the scheme after she became aware of the IRS investigation, Bortner essentially “doubled down” and continued to receive payments from Weckerly.
Weckerly pleaded guilty on November 4, 2021 to wire fraud and aiding and assisting in the filing of a false tax return and will be sentenced by Judge Conley on May 17, 2022. Judge Conley also scheduled a restitution hearing for Bortner and Weckerly on July 21, 2022.
The charges against Bortner were a result of an investigation conducted by IRS Criminal Investigation. The prosecution of the case has been handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Wegner.