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Boulder Spinal Surgeon Asks for Reduced Sentence in Bankruptcy Fraud Case

November 16, 2018

Cathleen Van Buskirk sits inside of the cockpit of her Cirrus SR22-Turbo plane in 2011.

The Boulder spinal surgeon who pleaded guilty to bankruptcy fraud is asking a federal judge for a reduced prison sentence in her case.

Cathleen Van Buskirk, 55, pleaded guilty to bankruptcy fraud in August, and is set for sentencing on Nov. 28.

The fraud case could carry up to five years in prison, but prosecutors agreed in the plea deal to not ask for more than 33 months in prison, while the probation department recommended a sentence of 24 to 30 months in a pre-sentence report. But Van Buskirk is asking for a six-month prison sentence followed by six months of house arrest.

“Mr. Buskirk is 55 years old and has no prior criminal history,” her attorney Patrick Tooley wrote in a motion filed Nov. 14. “She has forthrightly acknowledged her criminal wrongdoing. Her conduct was aberrational. Long before charges were filed here, Ms. Van Buskirk made full restitution.”

Van Buskirk was indicted Dec. 4 after prosecutors said she “deliberately failed to disclose certain assets and took various steps to conceal her interest in those concealed assets” in 2014 and 2015.

According to the plea agreement, Van Buskirk went into debt after a failed real estate investment in New Mexico.

“In early 2014, Ms. Van Buskirk realized she could no longer keep her head above water and would need to file for bankruptcy,” her attorney wrote. “Feeling tremendous shame, she avoided doing so for as long as possible.”

Prosecutors said while considering filing for bankruptcy, Van Buskirk had her sister and an employee create companies that she moved money to.

She also gave gold and silver coins, a diamond ring, and $48,000 in cash to a friend “for the purpose of hiding those assets from the bankruptcy trustee.”

But Van Buskirk’s attorneys said she has accepted responsibility for her actions, indicated by her taking a plea deal, something prosecutors acknowledged in a separate motion “permitted the government to avoid preparing for trial” and “allocate their resources efficiently.”

Van Buskirk in her own words admitted she “willfully mislead the court-appointed bankruptcy trustee. I lied in person and I lied on paper. I did this for my own personal benefit. I was greedy. I am sick with shame about my terrible choices.”

Tooley wrote that Van Buskirk concealed $328,000 to $385,000 in assets but has paid back the bank more than $800,000 in assets. Van Buskirk’s attorney also pointed out the crime was not a violent one that required a prison sentence to keep the community safe.

“Her conduct was assuredly wrong, but it was also aberrational and situational,” Tooley wrote. “She has accepted responsibility — forthrightly and without qualification — for her criminal behavior. She knows she will be forever branded a felon. And she faces a substantial risk she will lose her ability to practice medicine, her chosen profession for more than a quarter of a century. Put simply, a sentence of incarceration is unnecessary to deter her from future wrongful conduct.”

Attorneys also included character reference letters and talked about her work as a surgeon. Van Buskirk runs Alpine Spine Center, P.C., at 4745 Arapahoe Ave., in Boulder, though the center’s website says it is now closed.

“To be clear, Ms. Van Buskirk is not suggesting she should receive a variant sentence because of her academic credentials or because she is a surgeon,” Tooley wrote. “To the contrary, Ms. Van Buskirk has openly acknowledge the opportunities afforded her, her obligation to follow the law, and her failure to do so.

“But Ms. Van Buskirk’s character and her positive impact on the lives of those around her help inform the court about what type and length of sentence will be sufficient, but not greater than necessary, to accomplish the goals of sentencing. Ms. Van Buskirk’s age, the absence of any prior criminal history, and her dedication to the healing profession and the care of others further demonstrate how aberrational her wrongful conduct really was.”

Van Buskirk is currently free on $150,000 bond.

Mitchell Byars: 303-473-1329, byarsm@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/mitchellbyars

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