Marketing agency owner sentenced to year in prison for kickback scheme

MADISON, Wis. — An Illinois-based marketing agency owner was sentenced to federal prison Friday for his role in a kickback scheme with an executive of a Janesville healthcare provider.

Ryan Weckerly, 48, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison, followed by six months of home confinement and two and a half years of supervised release for wire fraud and aiding in the preparation of false tax returns. Department of Justice officials said he and co-defendant Barbara Bortner engaged in a kickback scheme. Weckerly owns Morningstar Media Group and Morningstar Interactive, which operated as Invironments Magazine.

During the scheme, officials said Bortner worked as the vice president of marketing and public relations at Janesville-based Mercyhealth. Between 2015 and 2020, Weckerly would send Bortner inflated invoices for work that Morningstar did for Mercyhealth. She would approve the invoices and Mercyhealth would pay Weckerly.

Weckerly would then give some of that money back to Bortner. In exchange for the money, Bortner agreed to make Morningstar Mercyhealth’s primary marketing agency.

Bortner allegedly created a fictitious company, WeInspire LLC, to hide the kickback payments. Officials said Weckerly wrote checks totaling over $2 million to the company. Records also reportedly show that Weckerly gave Bortner over $1 million in cash kickback payments.

An audit of Bortner’s tax returns by the IRS in May 2019 allegedly found that she tried to pass off WeInspire as a legitimate company that was working with Weckerly’s Invironments Magazine, however, in a Form 1099 given to Bortner, Weckerly only reported the check payments that were given to WeInspire and did not include cash payments given to Bortner.

Weckerly and Bortner were ordered to pay near $2.5 million in restitution to Mercyhealth. Bortner was sentenced to three and a half years in prison last month.

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