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Businessman who defrauded WEDC gets 7 years

In this Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019 photo, De Pere businessman Ron Van Den Heuvel leaves the courtroom after being sentenced to 7.5 years in prison by a federal judge in U.S. District Court for defrauding investors out of more than $9 million in Green Bay, Wis. (Adam Wesley/The Post-Crescent via AP)

Ron Van Den Heuvel leaves the courtroom Wednesday after being sentenced to 7-1/2 years in prison by a federal judge in U.S. District Court for defrauding investors out of more than $9 million in Green Bay. (Adam Wesley/The Post-Crescent via AP)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — A De Pere businessman whose company promised to turn fast-food wrappers into synthetic fuel and paper products was sentenced this week to more than seven years in prison for defrauding the state’s economic-development agency and other investors out of more than $9 million.

Ronald H. Van Den Heuvel was sentenced on Wednesday after reaching a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

U.S. District Judge William Griesbach also ordered Van Den Heuvel to pay $9.4 million to his former investors.

Van Den Heuvel will serve the 7-1/2-year sentence at the same time as a three-year prison sentence he received in January 2018 for a charge of bank fraud, the Green Bay Press Gazette reported.

Prosecutors alleged that, between 2011 and 2015, Van Den Heuvel defrauded investors of $9.4 million and used millions of those dollars to pay past debts, buy Green Packers tickets and provide his family with a lavish lifestyle.

The defense attorney Robert LaBell argued for a five-year prison sentence.

“Sometimes we do amazingly stupid things in the name of the ends justifying the means,” LaBell said. “He recognizes he has hurt many people.”

But the defense attorney added, “He’s done a lot for his family and his community.”

Van Den Heuvel, owner of Green Box NA, spoke before sentencing and touted the environmental benefits of his company’s business plan. He said the business had taken tons of plastic out of oceans but eventually admitted to misappropriating millions of dollars.

“I led this group and I led them wrong,” Van Den Heuvel said. “That money was spent wrong. … I have put damage on my family that I cannot take off.”

Prosecutors painted Van Den Heuvel as someone who had made fantastic claims about a process that was nowhere near being commercially feasible in order to defraud his friends, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and foreign investors in an attempt to stay ahead of creditors.

Dr. Marco Araujo, a onetime friend who invested $600,000 in Green Box, told the court that his investment has cost him $1.3 million.

“I felt like the biggest loser in the world,” Araujo said.

The Van Den Heuvel loan was one of several deals WEDC botched, prompting a review of agency practices and a temporary suspension of the agency’s loan program. WEDC’s $1.1 million loan was supposed to help the company create 116 jobs by December 2014 as part of a project valued at more than $13 million. The project called for turning fast-food wrappers and other waste paper into synthetic fuel and paper products, all through an environmentally sound process that was touted to produce no waste.

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