As Billings resident Mitchell John Romersa chased his dream of becoming a country singer, he turned the life of one his supporters into a nightmare.
On Wednesday, Anne Kero, an elderly Bozeman woman whom Romersa left financially ruined, watched as Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull sentenced Romersa to four years in prison for wire fraud and money-laundering convictions.
Cebull followed the prosecutor’s recommendation and sentenced Romersa, 51, to seven months longer than the guideline range. Restitution will be determined later. The judge dismissed five other counts.
Cebull said Romersa used “serial filings” in bankruptcy court to try to avoid paying creditors. Romersa would not list all of his creditors, including Kero in one of his filings, so they would not be notified of his bankruptcy, he said. The bankruptcies would be dismissed when Romersa failed to make payments.
In 2009, when Kero, who formerly lived in the Billings area, became homeless from a Romersa-related foreclosure, Romersa was still living in a 3,200-square-foot house on 10 acres, driving nice vehicles and giving Kero “false promises,” Cebull said.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” Kero said after the hearing. Romersa got what he deserved, she said.
Shackled and in jail clothes, Romersa turned to Kero and apologized. He promised to pay her back.
“I hope I can make it right. I’ll give it everything I have. If it takes me the rest of my life, I hope you’ll know I’m working on it,” Romersa said. “I’m sincere in the repayment of this.”
Romersa tried to make it big as a country singer, promoting himself as “Mitchell John” and selling CDs on bus tours and at Wal-Mart stores across the Northwest. He performed at the Alberta Bair Theater in Billings in 2005.
Assistant Federal Defender Dave Merchant recommended a sentence within the guideline range of 33 months to 41 months. Romersa took responsibility and was remorseful, he said.
Kero, 74, testified at the hearing that she trusted Romersa, whom she had met through her late husband. “I was his surrogate grandma. He was short of money” as he tried to launch his singing career, she said.
Kero started lending Romersa money in 2003. By the time Romersa’s scheme imploded in 2008, Kero had given him more than $697,000, including money from refinancing her home, which she lost to foreclosure, and from cashing out annuities.
Romersa paid back $51,224, leaving $645,776 still owed to Kero, not including interest, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Victoria Francis.
“He kept saying it was coming, the check is coming. I would be paid back in full, with interest, for everything,” Kero told the judge.
Romersa scammed others as well, Kero said, using the money to live a lifestyle he thought he deserved.
Kero said she was too embarrassed to tell anyone what was happening but finally called her brother when she had to leave her house because of the foreclosure. She ultimately contacted law enforcement.
Kero knew nothing about Romersa’s four bankruptcy filings in Oregon and three filings in Montana. “Yes, it would have made me wonder,” she said.
Romersa’s convictions are from a $220,000 loan Romersa persuaded Kero to get in 2007 from First National Bank and Trust in Powell, Wyo. The bank, with Kero’s permission, used $100,000 to pay Romersa’s past debts. The remaining $120,000 of the business loan was transferred into Kero’s account in Yellowstone Bank in Laurel. Romersa then spent the money on personal expenses using cashier’s checks, including a $33,356 check to pay his mortgage.
Another of Romersa’s victims, Tami Folkerts, who worked as Romersa’s office manager in Billings, told the judge that Romersa wrote her bad checks, including paying a $4,000 medical bill for her with a bad check, and that it would take years to restore her credit. Romersa’s sentence wasn’t long enough, she said.
Folkerts carried a three-ring binder she called her “Book of Lies on Mitchell John Romersa,” which was filled with correspondence from him. Folkerts said she went to the city and county for help. “Nobody would help me,” she said. Federal investigators came to her, she said.
The case was investigated by the Secret Service and the IRS’s Criminal Investigation unit.