Ishpeming woman sentenced in fraud case

Brooke Vernier

MARQUETTE — The Ishpeming woman who pled guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud after attempting to execute a circular check kiting scheme totaling about $145 million was sentenced in the U.S. District Court this week.

Brooke Lynn Vernier, also known as Brooke Ferns, was sentenced to 18 months incarceration — less than the guideline of 37-46 months — and two years of supervised release.

Vernier allegedly conspired to artificially inflate the balances of seven different accounts held at the Ishpeming Community Federal Credit Union, Peninsula Bank and River Valley Bank beginning in 2010 or 2011.

According to the plea agreement that Vernier agreed to in August, she wrote hundreds of checks transferring and attempting to transfer about $145 million between the accounts in 2012. She reportedly wrote around 15 checks per day, averaging about $40,000 each, for nine months.

Vernier reportedly learned how to take advantage of “float” in the banking system while working for her father as a bookkeeper at 19 years old to address financial shortfalls in the business.

“I take responsibility for what happened,” said Vernier in court. “I was really young and put in an awful position.”

In 2010, according to court documents, Vernier agreed to open three businesses — Oasis Fuels Inc., Oasis Operating Inc. and Refresh & Refuel Inc. — to take over financially distressed businesses owned by her father.

The financial problems ultimately led to her and her father, whom she had previously identified in court as her co-conspirator, to make the decision to write the checks despite having insufficient funds, she said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Maarten Vermaat on Monday said Vernier must be held responsible for her actions that “created mayhem within the banking system.”

“I agree the father had significant influence here and that he put Ms. Vernier in a bad position, but she is an adult,” Vermaat said. “She is the person who wrote all those checks. She put a lot of people at risk.”

Vernier’s attorney, Charles Chamberlain of Willey & Chamberlain LLP, said this situation was a result of a unique set of circumstances. He asked Judge Robert J. Jonker to consider a split sentence.

“She may have been named the president of these companies … but did not have any practical control,” Chamberlain said. “Her motive was simply to keep the business afloat out of fear and anxiety, not out of personal gain.”

Jonker said this was a difficult case, adding that Vernier has “accomplished so much” and demonstrates “immense goodwill.”

“(That’s) a richness no judge can ever take away,” he said.

Jonker said he doesn’t think Vernier is likely to commit any future offenses.

As part of her sentence, Vernier was also ordered to make monthly payments toward the $1.8 million in restitution owed to the Ishpeming Community Federal Credit Union, now known as TruNorth Federal Credit Union.

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