Remorseless con artist sentenced to 6 years behind bars for bilking lover of 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.

Judge describes Shaun Rootenberg as cold, calculating for abusing his victim's romantic feelings towards him

Rom-con artist Shaun Rootenberg enters Superior Court for his sentencing hearing on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. The repeat offender was convicted of defrauding a woman he was romantically involved with of $595,000. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

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."

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

The judge ordered him to repay 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.

Maintains innocence, plans to appeal

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 Allen's characterization of him.

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

Smith was a divorced mother of two when she first met Rootenberg. 

She believed she had developed a "close, sharing and monogomous" relationship with a successful financier, who called himself Shaun Rothberg. Smith soon gave him $595,000 to invest for her. 

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

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  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'

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

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

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

Allen also imposed a fine of $558,456, to be reduced by any amount he repays 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 Rootenberg 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 him became known.

Same man hired with public health unit using different name

She had hired him as Shaun Rothberg to be interim chief financial officer of the unit.

Barker declined to comment on the sentence.

Allen noted Rothberg'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 Allen found puzzling given Rootenberg's criminal lifestyle, lack of remorse and "over-inflated sense of self-entitlement."

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