Authorities haven’t settled on how much former Mercyhealth marketing chief Barbara Bortner might have to pay back for her role in a $3 million kickback scheme she is accused of orchestrating with an Illinois vendor.
A federal judge in Madison on Thursday accepted Bortner’s guilty plea to charges of fraud and tax evasion in a five-year-long kickback scheme federal prosecutors say Bortner and Illinois marketing firm operator Ryan Weckerly coordinated to bilk Mercyhealth through overinflated billings for contracted marketing services.
Bortner, 57, won’t face sentencing until February, but on Thursday, U.S. District Judge William Conley’s decision in the U.S. Western District court was not a surprise.
The plea deal Bortner and her attorney agreed to with U.S. Attorney Aaron Wegner on Thursday was nearly identical to an initial plea deal Bortner and Weckerly signed Aug. 11, according to federal court documents.
Under the earlier deal, Bortner will be required to pay back $777,800 in taxes prosecutors said she evaded by “grossly underepresenting” her personal income during several years between winter 2015 and summer 2020.
That was the same period of time during which Bortner and Weckerly, the operator of Sycamore, Illinois-based health and wellness magazine Invironments, admitted to amassing $3.1 million of payments from Mercyhealth.
Both Bortner and Weckerly admitted they fraudulently inflated billings to Mercyhealth beyond the scope of contract marketing work Weckerly was providing Mercyhealth at the time, according to court documents.
Bortner, a 30-year employee and a longtime vice president of marketing for Mercyhealth, was found guilty Thursday of accepting the kickbacks, a crime prosecutors said surfaced out of an IRS audit of Bortner’s personal finances.
Thursday was Bortner’s first appearance in court after she and Weckerly formally agreed to plead guilty to charges of fraud and tax evasion on Sept. 1.
Mercyhealth officials said they fired Bortner and dissolved a contract arrangement with Weckerly in mid-August after top brass at Mercyhealth learned of the fraud and kickbacks.
As part of her plea, Bortner admitted her role in accepting kickback money from Weckerly in cash and in checks in a scheme that involved payments as big as $70,000 at one time, according to court documents.
Bortner also admitted to putting the money in a shell bank account she set up at a bank in Milton and acknowledged in court Thursday that she used the money for her own personal use.
Weckerly is expected to plead guilty to his role in fraud and tax evasion in the case today, according to a federal court schedule, but Bortner and Weckerly have yet to learn what amount they would have to repay Mercyhealth in restitution.
In an interview after the hearing Thursday, Wegner said there could be further court hearings to hash out the restitution amount Bortner will be compelled to pay.
In exchange for their guilty pleas, prosecutors have offered to “resolve” charges of wire fraud and tax evasion, provided both pay whatever restitution is ordered. Federal probation officials in the coming weeks will review the plea deals and the case and provide guidance in sentencing based on Bortner’s past history.
Conley on Thursday said he is inclined to uphold the federal prosecutors’ agreement to fines and restitution, although he won’t officially hand a sentence to Bortner until Feb. 17.