Victim of romance swindler tells Ontario court her life was 'stolen'
TORONTO -- A romance con-artist deserves at least six years in prison for defrauding a woman of hundreds of thousands of dollars, leaving her feeling broken and suicidal, his sentencing hearing was told on Monday.
In a victim impact statement read through the prosecutor, Victoria Smith said Shaun Rootenberg engaged in an elaborate plan of deception while he romanced her and another woman at the same time.
"I feel like I was raped by Shaun over the course of a year and a half," Smith said in her statement. "My life story has been written by a villain."
Superior Court Justice Beth Allen had convicted Rootenberg, of Thornhill, Ont., of defrauding Smith, despite his contention that frequent strip searches in detention had violated his rights and that the judge was biased.
Prosecutor Mitchell Flagg urged Allen to sentence Rootenberg, alias Shaun Rothberg, to between six and seven years in prison. He also called for him to pay Smith $622,000 in restitution.
"Mr. Rootenberg ruined a woman's life, not just financially but emotionally and psychologically," Flagg said. "He just keeps offending."
Flagg said a greed-driven and remorseless Rootenberg had previously scammed close friends and family. He'd been convicted for multiple frauds, including one involving his psychiatrist brother worth $1.2 million, court heard.
The Smith scam came shortly after Rootenberg had finished serving a four-year penitentiary term for a 2009 conviction. It was, Flagg said, not a commercial transaction gone sour.
"This misuse of her money...was not some kind of error in judgment," Flagg said. "Mr. Rootenberg took every last dollar this woman had."
Defence lawyer Bryan Badali denied the fraud was sophisticated and complex. It involved only one victim, who failed to do due diligence before handing over her cash, the lawyer said.
"Ms. Smith, as Your Honour found, failed to protect herself," Badali said. "(But) I'm not saying she should be blamed for it."
Badali submitted letters supportive of the father of two in calling for a sentence of 3 1/2 to four years for his client, who still insists he's innocent, and a fine or restitution of $558,907.25.
Smith, a divorced mother of two, met Rootenberg on the e-Harmony dating site in July 2013. Believing him to be a financier, she would soon give him $595,000 to invest for her. Instead, Rootenberg bought himself a new BMW and paid off gambling debts.
Smith, who initially believed she was involved with a Shaun Rothberg, complained to police about 18 months after meeting him, when she accidentally discovered his real identity.
"I received a shock that changed me forever," Smith said in her statement. "I was in a relationship with a man that had been lying to me and stolen my life savings."
Smith said she suffered a nervous breakdown, almost succeeded in killing herself, and still has unrelenting anxiety and difficulty trusting anyone.
Rootenberg, she also said, was having unprotected sex with her while also sleeping with another woman.
Toronto police initially charged the repeat offender with defrauding a second woman, Dr. Kim Barker, but those charges were dropped.
Barker resigned under a cloud as medical officer of health for the Algoma Public Health Unit in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., in 2015 after her affair with Rootenberg became known. She had hired him as Shaun Rothberg, to be interim chief financial officer of the unit.
Recently disclosed documents show Barker, who says he preyed on her vulnerability as a legally blind woman, hid her close personal relationship with Rootenberg from the health unit board.
On the stand briefly on Monday, Rootenberg told the court that frequent lockdowns in pre-trial detention and issues with disclosure had hampered his ability to defend himself properly.
Allen reserved her sentencing decision.
— Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press
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