Toronto-area con artist sentenced to six years for defrauding woman of her life savings

A remorseless and incorrigible con artist who bilked a woman of her life savings was handed a six-year sentence on Wednesday and ordered to repay the hundreds of thousands of dollars he stole.

In jailing Shaun Rootenberg for fraud, the judge described him as cold and calculating in his dishonesty for abusing his victim’s romantic feelings toward him.

“He does not in the least regret what he has done,” Ontario Superior Court Justice Beth Allen said. “He has been unimpeded by the constraints of the law.”

Justice Allen had convicted Mr. Rootenberg, 52, of Thornhill, Ont., in May, 2019, of bilking Victoria Smith of $595,000. The pair had met on the eHarmony dating site in July, 2013, shortly after his release from prison for previous frauds.

The judge ordered him to repay Ms. Smith $558,456 within five years of his release or be sent back to prison for another four years. She did give him 462 days’ credit for the time he had spent in pre-trial custody.

The married father of two declined to address the court before sentencing. His lawyer said afterward his client was disappointed with both the sentence and Justice Allen’s characterization of him.

“He maintains his innocence and will be appealing both his conviction and sentence,” Bryan Badali said.

Ms. Smith was a divorced mother of two when she first met Mr. Rootenberg. She believed she had developed a “close, sharing and monogamous” relationship with a successful financier, who called himself Shaun Rothberg. Ms. Smith soon gave him $595,000 to invest for her.

Instead, Mr. Rootenberg used her money to buy himself a new BMW and pay off gambling and other debts.

Ms. Smith went to police about 18 months into their relationship after she accidentally discovered his real identity and learned he was similarly romancing another woman. The ongoing emotional and financial devastation he wrought on Ms. Smith was akin to rape, and left her suicidal and struggling to make ends meet, court heard.

“My life story has been written by a villain,” Ms. Smith had previously told court.

Prosecutor Mitchell Flagg said the penitentiary sentence recognized the trauma Mr. Rootenberg had inflicted.

“Major fraud is also a crime that affects society more broadly,” Mr. Flagg said. “The court recognized the need to deter and denounce this conduct.”

Justice Allen also imposed a fine of $558,456, to be reduced by any amount he repays Ms. Smith. If he fails to pay the fine within five years of his release, he would be given a further four-year term. She also barred him from having any control of other people’s property or finances, and ordered him to provide a DNA sample.

Toronto police initially charged Mr. Rootenberg with defrauding a second woman, Dr. Kim Barker, but those charges were dropped. Dr. 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 him became known. She had hired him as Shaun Rothberg to be interim chief financial officer of the unit.

Dr. Barker declined to comment on the sentence.

Justice Allen noted Mr. Rootenberg’s “inglorious history” of frauds: He was convicted in 2006, and served a four-year sentence after a second conviction in 2009. His victims included his own brother, prominent psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Rootenberg, whom he impersonated and fleeced for $1.8-million.

Nevertheless, his victimized brother and a few others offered their support, something Justice Allen found puzzling given Mr. Rootenberg’s criminal lifestyle, lack of remorse and “over-inflated sense of self-entitlement.”

Months after his conviction, Mr. Rootenberg argued unsuccessfully for Justice Allen to declare a mistrial. He cited her refusal to stay the proceedings against him over problems with pre-trial disclosure and his frequent strip-searches in prison.

This article first published here