Fired Wisconsin health system exec charged in kickback scheme

A former vice president of Janesville, Wis.-based Mercyhealth was charged Sept. 1 in a $3 million kickback scheme, according to the U.S. Justice Department. 

Barbara Bortner, Mercyhealth's former vice president of marketing, allegedly received monetary kickbacks from Ryan Weckerly, the owner of a marketing agency hired by the health system. The alleged kickback scheme began in February 2015 and continued until June 2020, according to the Justice Department. 

Prosecutors allege that Ms. Bortner and Mr. Weckerly devised a scheme whereby Mr. Weckerly's marketing agency, Morningstar Media Group, would submit inflated invoices to Mercyhealth, and Ms. Bortner would receive kickbacks from the funds received. Prosecutors further allege that Ms. Bortner agreed to retain Morningstar as the primary marketing agency for Mercyhealth in exchange for the kickbacks. 

Ms. Bortner is charged with wire fraud and tax evasion. Mr. Weckerly is charged with wire fraud and aiding and abetting in the preparation of a false income tax return. They have both agreed to plead guilty to the charges, according to the Justice Department. 

Mercyhealth fired Ms. Bortner weeks before the charges were filed. In August, Mercyhealth President and CEO Javon Bea said the alleged fraud didn't affect patient care and the system is taking "all necessary steps to improve Mercyhealth procedures," according to the Janesville Gazette

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