Fired Wisconsin health system exec pleads guilty to wire fraud, tax evasion

A former vice president of Janesville, Wis.-based Mercyhealth pleaded guilty Oct. 14 to wire fraud and tax evasion as part of a $3 million kickback scheme, according to The Wisconsin State Journal.

Barbara Bortner, Mercyhealth's former vice president of marketing and public relations, faces up to 25 years in prison. Her sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 17. 

As part of the plea agreement, Ms. Bortner agreed she owes the Internal Revenue Service $777,803 in restitution for underpaid taxes. She also will need to pay Mercyhealth additional restitution, which will be determined in the sentencing.

Ms. Bortner was charged in the alleged kickback scheme Sept. 1. Under the scheme, which took place from February 2015 to June 2020, Ms. Bortner allegedly received kickbacks from Ryan Weckerly, the owner of a marketing agency hired by the health system.

Prosecutors claim Ms. Bortner and Mr. Weckerly conspired to create a scheme in which Mr. Weckerly's marketing agency, Morningstar Media Group, inflated invoices sent to Ms. Bortner for marketing work he did for Mercyhealth. In exchange, Ms. Bortner would receive kickbacks from the funds received. Additionally, prosecutors allege Ms. Bortner agreed to maintain Morningstar Media as its primary marketing group in exchange for the kickbacks.

Ms. Bortner was charged with wire fraud and tax evasion. Mr. Weckerly was charged with wire fraud and aiding and abetting in the preparation of a false income tax return. Mr. Weckerly is set to plead guilty Nov. 4, according to the report.

Mercyhealth fired Ms. Bortner in August, weeks before the charges were filed against her. Mercyhealth said the alleged fraud didn't affect patient care.

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