Marketing agency owner sentenced to 12 months for kickback scheme


Date: June 17, 2022


Timothy M. O'Shea, United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, announced that Ryan Weckerly, Sycamore, Illinois, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge William Conley to 12 months and 1 day in federal prison for wire fraud and aiding in the preparation of a false tax return. The prison sentence will be followed by 6 months of home confinement and 2 ½ years of supervised release. Weckerly is the owner of two marketing agencies based in Sycamore, Illinois - Morningstar Media Group, and Morningstar Interactive, which did business as Invironments Magazine.

The government's investigation revealed that between 2015 and 2020, Weckerly and co-defendant Barbara Bortner engaged in a kickback scheme in which Weckerly submitted inflated invoices to Bortner for his marketing work for Mercyhealth. During the scheme, Bortner was the Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at Mercyhealth in Janesville. 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.

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 an attempt to cover up the kickback scheme, Weckerly provided Bortner with an IRS Form 1099 for WeInspire that purported to include her total compensation from Invironments Magazine. However, on the Form 1099, Weckerly only included the monetary total of the checks written to WeInspire and did not include the cash payments he provided to Bortner. In the months following the interview with the IRS Revenue Agent, Bortner continued to receive kickback payments from Weckerly.

At the conclusion of the sentencing hearing, Judge Conley ordered Weckerly and Bortner to pay $2,428,275 in restitution to Mercyhealth. Bortner was sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison for her role in the offense by Judge Conley on May 2, 2022.

The charges against Weckerly and 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.