GREEN BAY — A De Pere businessman was sentenced Wednesday to more than seven years in prison for defrauding the state's economic development agency and other investors out of more than $9 million.
Ronald H. Van Den Heuvel was sentenced after reaching a plea deal with federal prosecutors.
U.S. District Judge William Griesbach also ordered Van Den Heuvel to pay $9.4 million to his former investors.
Van Den Heuvel will serve the 7.5-year sentence at the same time he serves a three-year prison sentence he received in January 2018 for a charge of bank fraud, the Green Bay Press Gazette reported .
Prosecutors alleged that between 2011 and 2015, Van Den Heuvel defrauded investors out of $9.4 million and used millions of those dollars to pay past debts, buy Green Packers tickets and provide his family with a lavish lifestyle.
Defense attorney Robert LaBell argued for a five-year prison sentence.
"Sometimes we do amazingly stupid things in the name of the ends justifying the means," LaBell said. "He recognizes he has hurt many people."
But the defense attorney added, "He's done a lot for his family and his community."
Van Den Heuvel, owner of Green Box NA, spoke before sentencing and touted the company's business plan's environmental impact. He said the business had taken tons of plastic out of oceans, but he eventually admitted misappropriating millions of dollars in funds.
"I led this group and I led them wrong," Van Den Heuvel said. "That money was spent wrong. ... I have put damage on my family that I cannot take off.
Prosecutors painted Van Den Heuvel as a person who made fantastic claims about a process that was nowhere near commercially viable in order to defraud friends, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and foreign investors in a bid to stay ahead of creditors.
Dr. Marco Araujo, a onetime friend who invested $600,000 in Green Box, told the court that his investment has cost $1.3 million.
"I felt like the biggest loser in the world," Araujo said.
The Van Den Heuvel loan was one of several botched deals by WEDC that prompted a review of agency practices and a temporary suspension of the agency's loan program. WEDC's $1.1 million loan was supposed to help the company create 116 jobs by December 2014 as part of a project valued at more than $13 million to turn fast-food wrappers and other waste paper into synthetic fuel and paper products, all through an environmentally sound process that was touted to produce no waste.