Ron Van Den Heuvel sentenced to 3 years in federal prison on bank fraud charges
Almost a year after founder Ron Van Den Heuvel sought protection from investors and creditors, the trash-into-treasure company could emerge ready to operate if it can secure $176 million in financing. Wochit
GREEN BAY - De Pere businessman Ron Van Den Heuvel will spend three years in prison for using straw borrowers to defraud Horicon Bank and three credit unions.
U.S. District Court Judge William Griesbach on Friday sentenced Van Den Heuvel, 63, on one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Van Den Heuvel will also serve three years of supervision after his release from prison. He will also be required to pay $316,445 in restitution to Horicon Bank.
Griesbach sentenced Van Den Heuvel after denying his request to delay Friday's hearing for reasons that included a claim that new evidence would exonerate Van Den Heuvel and his attorney's request to withdraw as counsel.
The judge chastised Van Den Heuvel for trying to delay the 2-year-old case at the last minute.
"Intent to defraud was part of your plea (to the charge)," Griesbach said. "I cannot accept that you lied under oath simply to advance the proceedings. It's gamesmanship. It will not be tolerated."
According to court records, Van Den Heuvel worked with Horicon Bank loan officer Paul Piikkila to obtain more than $1 million in loans for Green Box, a recycling company he owned at the time, under the names of Van Den Heuvel's employees and a former relative. Prosecutors portrayed the employees and relative as straw borrowers who did not receive the money and were not expected to repay it.
Horicon Bank reported losing more than $700,000 as a result of loans that were issued between Jan. 17, 2008, and Sept. 25, 2009.
Van Den Heuvel claimed one straw borrower, his live-in housekeeper, reinvested tens of thousands of dollars she earned from investments in his companies. But prosecutors pointed out Van Den Heuvel falsified income statements so the nanny could secure a loan and credit cards that Van Den Heuvel used to pay his expenses.
In another case, he made his administrative assistant a board member in one of his limited liability companies one month before she sought a loan for more than $200,000 via Piikkila and Horicon.
Horicon Bank Executive Vice Presidents Allen Schwab and Jay Vanden Boogart testified during the hearing that Van Den Heuvel's conspiracy worried customers, left prospective employees concerned about working for the company and hurt Horicon's employees, who own 25 percent of the bank.
"Horicon sustained a substantial loss beyond the amount of restitution," Schwab said. "We have sustained a reputational loss, especially in the Fox Valley market. Google Horicon and this fraud case comes up. Customers come in to ask about if their investments are safe."
Piikkila had been told by bank management to no longer loan money to Van Den Heuvel, according to court documents. He has pleaded guilty to his role in the straw borrower scheme and is scheduled for sentencing next month.
Done with delays
Van De Heuvel pleaded guilty in October to the single fraud charge as part of a plea agreement that dismissed 18 other charges. Charges against his wife, Kelly Van Den Heuvel, were also dismissed under the agreement.
After rejecting Van Den Heuvel's attempt to withdraw his plea, Griesbach said a prison term was warranted based on Van Den Heuvel's continued insistence that he'd done nothing wrong.
He said Van Den Heuvel's family support, business acumen, his claims of trying to benefit those who borrowed money on his behalf, and his support of local nonprofits made his decision to conspire to defraud banks all the more disturbing.
"Mr. Van Den Heuvel presents himself as a selfless entrepreneur and philanthropist even today," Griesbach said. "It is a lie. He can't admit (his role) to himself, his family or this court. He has delayed the proceedings with motions that are frivolous. It tells us he's still not gotten the message that what he believes is a lie."
More charges ahead
Van Den Heuvel will be required to report to prison even as a Securities and Exchange Commission fraud case continues in federal court. In that case, Van Den Heuvel has pleaded not guilty to 14 counts in that case of defrauding Green Box investors out of $9 million.
Van Den Heuvel spent years developing Green Box and its related companies' system for converting food-contaminated trash and other waste into new paper products, reusable plastics and other materials.
The effort fell apart as financiers, investors and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. filed civil lawsuits against Van Den Heuvel and the limited liability companies under which the business was controlled.
His primary company, Green Box NA, filed for federal bankruptcy protection in April 2016. According to court documents, the company had less than $50,000 in assets and more than $10 million in debt.
A U.S. Bankruptcy Judge dismissed the Chapter 11 reorganization case on Dec. 27 based on the investors' inability to restart the business and the court's inability to identify assets that could be sold to restart the business and repay Van Den Heuvel's investors.
The creditors can still individually use state and federal laws to try to recoup their losses, the judge wrote.
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