Rootenberg and Barker: The Perfect Storm

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What do you get, when an inept organization collides with a smooth operator? Well, you get the ‘perfect storm’

Jeffrey Holmes stepped down as Chief Operating Officer of Algoma Public Health in July of 2013. He was arrested for fraud in October of 2013. The APH embarked upon a quest to find a replacement.

Now, you would think, given the circumstances of the departure of Mr. Holmes, that those in charge at APH would employ hyper-vigilance in finding a successor, to restore the dignity and credibility of that organization. What happened next would end up rocking the APH right down to its core, a narrative that reads like a really bad ‘made-for-TV’ movie.

Dr. Kim Barker, the Chief Medical Officer at Algoma Public Health, was tasked with recruiting a replacement for Mr. Holmes. She contacted some ‘corporate headhunters’, but found them prohibitively expensive. Luckily, one of those headhunters contacted her back, with a really great deal to offer. That man was Ron Hulse.

Ron Hulse is the director of Mindspan Recruiting Inc., a consultant firm he operates out of his home in Toronto. Mr. Hulse had the perfect candidate in mind for the Chief Financial Officer position at APH. The man he had in mind was Shaun Rootenberg.

There was just one problem. Shaun Rootenberg was a convicted criminal who had served prison time for defrauding his friends and family out of millions of dollars. And this wasn’t ancient history – Rootenberg was sentenced in 2009, and violated his parole conditions in 2012. What were the odds that the Algoma Public Health Unit was going to place this guy in a position of trust, overseeing the finances of an organization with a 20 million dollar operating budget?

So, Shaun Rootenberg decided to apply for the job as Shaun ‘Rothberg’ instead, and Ron Hulse helped him to do it. Mr. Hulse admitted to David Helwig of Sootoday.com that Shaun Rootenberg hadn’t legally changed his name as of January of 2015, but he was convinced that Rootenberg had become a new man, so he was willing to help Mr. Rootenberg conceal his identity, to get a fresh start in life.

As a result, Dr. Kim Barker made a trip down to Toronto to initiate business with Mindspan Recruiting, and met a man named Shaun Rothberg. It is unclear at this point if Dr. Barker took any steps at all to verify Rothberg’s identity, look at a resume, or check any of his credentials. What is clear, is that she returned to the Sault, and recommended Shaun Rothberg for the job. Shaun Rothberg was then contracted, through Ron Hulse, to become the next Chief Financial Officer of Algoma Public Health.

Because he slipped past the scrutiny of Dr. Barker, and had the assistance of Ron Hulse to conceal his identity, Shaun Rootenberg waltzed through the doors of Algoma Public Health, and started working as Chief Financial Officer. He never had to show a piece of ID, disclose his history, provide a resume, or even deal with the payroll department at APH, to collect his $4,000 a week salary. He spent the full six months of his contract with his true identity completely concealed, with only his word that he was ‘Shaun Rothberg’ to carry him the whole way.

Take a moment, to consider how elaborate this deception really was. Everything in Mr. Rothberg’s pocket; his driver’s license, his bank cards, his credit cards, his cell phone, would read ‘Shaun Rootenberg’, because that was his real legal name. For the entire six months of his term at APH, Rootenberg would have to be meticulously careful not to slip, and reveal his true identity. If he went to a restaurant, he would have to make sure and pay in cash, because if he used a bank card, he could be discovered. If he got a parking ticket, or pulled over for speeding, the game might be over. Renting an apartment, going to the bank, making a purchase at a store, all presented risk.

But it gets even more stressful. Rootenberg was well-known in the Toronto area, and was now sitting in a high-profile position here in the Sault. All it would take is one fateful meeting with someone who knew his true identity, one ill-fated photo op that got onto the internet, and the whole scheme could blow wide-open. But it appears that Shaun Rothberg was very careful, because he never was discovered while working at APH, and an internet search of images of him as Shaun Rothberg yield no results.

But did he really pull it off? The minutes of an APH Board meeting reveal that at least one member made an effort to shed light on Shaun ‘Rothberg’, and went on the record asking for details. Apparently, this was never followed up, and this leads us back to Dr. Barker.

There is speculation swirling around, that Dr. Barker had some sort of relationship outside the normal working relationship with Mr. Rootenberg. Sources indicate that it even might have been a romantic relationship, so this raises the obvious question: at any point, did Dr. Barker discover Shaun Rothberg’s true identity, and if so, did she actively conceal it?

The point is rendered moot by the fact that Dr. Barker resigned her position at APH, in a state of shame and disgrace. She has paid her price for her part in this fiasco, and has suffered a significant loss as a result of her actions. Some in this community seem happy to let it lie there; after all, we have our sacrifice. Some people have even expressed the opinion that since Rothberg did such a stellar job as CFO at APH, and since he is no longer there, we should just let the deception go, and call it even.

I say, ”Hold on a minute, that’s not the end of this story’.

Puzzling through all the legalese, and the mind-numbing complexity of the thing we call the Canadian Criminal Code, some of the language appears to cry foul, when you try to apply it to what happened here. Did Shaun Rootenberg actually break the law by concealing his identity like this? Did Ron Hulse break the law by assisting Shaun Rootenberg to conceal his true identity? Some of the descriptions of law involving fraud seem to indicate that there might be a problem here.

The Criminal Code makes mention of terms like ‘false pretenses’, and ’employing deception for gain’. There are multiple sections dealing with ‘impersonation of others, living or dead’, and we are all painfully aware of what a serious offence it is to conceal your identity to a police officer, when asked to identify yourself. So, what happens when someone conceals their identity to the Chief Medical Officer? What happens when someone lies to get a job, and conceals his identity to a whole community? What happens to a consultant, who knowingly and recklessly assists someone to conceal their identity, and collects fees from the process? Every time Shaun Rootenberg signed official documents as Shaun Rothberg, was he committing a form of forgery?

There are Ministry audits underway. There are internal investigations taking place. The Algoma Public Health Unit will undergo a long and painful process in rebuilding their credibility. Heads will roll, people will be replaced. But what about Shaun Rootenberg, and Ron Hulse? Is anyone going to take steps to address their actions in this matter? Nothing in local media indicates a police involvement in these matters. Perhaps it’s time someone did.

(Stay tuned for the sequel to ‘The Perfect Storm’ – ‘The Long Con’!)

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