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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Feb. 21, 2024

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Neonatal doctor in Spokane gets 8 years in dark web kidnapping, extortion plot


SPOKANE — A 56-year-old neonatologist stood for nearly an hour Tuesday in a federal courtroom in Spokane and tried to explain to a federal judge that he was not the “magnificent monster” a former colleague, whose hands he’d sought to break, had called him.

Instead, Dr. Ronald Ilg was sentenced to eight years in federal prison and will pay a $100,000 fine in what U.S. Senior District Court Judge William Fremming Nielsen called behavior that was “egregious, abhorrent and evil.”

The sentence brings to a close a bizarre criminal case that involved cryptocurrency, the dark web and accusations of sexual abuse that evolved from a dominant/submissive lifestyle. Nielsen stressed that the sentence, equal to prison time requested by federal prosecutors, was based on the solicitation of violence and extortion Ilg believed he was making to criminals and members of a cartel in early 2021, not his personal life.

“It was unconscionable, the things that you were asking unknown people on the dark web to do to people you love,” Nielsen told Ilg before sentencing.

Ilg pleaded guilty in August to sending messages on an untraceable part of the internet to people he believed would assault the colleague, and kidnap his wife who was seeking an divorce, inject her with heroin daily and extort her into returning to the marriage. That solicitation happened during a time Ilg said his life was in a spiral. But victims told Nielsen on Tuesday that he was a manipulative man who’d shown little interest for others, including a biological child with his ex-wife for whom he was making minimum child support payments despite owning real estate and a $1 million retirement fund.

“All I wanted to do was get out of a toxic marriage,” Ilg’s ex-wife, who sat in the first row of the courtroom on Tuesday, told Nielsen.

Ilg, told the judge he still loved his ex-wife, and the woman who traveled with him to Mexico and whom he had placed in a dark, underground, tanklike structure on his property in Otis Orchards. That woman was not in the courtroom Tuesday, opting instead to have a statement read by her attorney.

“I fear for my safety, even with the defendant in jail,” the woman wrote.

Ilg sent a letter to the woman in June 2021, after he’d been in jail several months. In that letter, he suggested they get married to potentially stop her from testifying against him.

That letter was sent when Ilg was weaning himself off medication to help his anxiety and depression while in jail, he told Nielsen.

“It was out of desperation, and hope,” Ilg said, that he would be released from custody.

Vanessa Waldref, U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington, was among the several dozen people in the courtroom Tuesday to see the sentencing. She praised the victims for being willing to stand up and speak about the damage Ilg’s crimes had caused.

“I think it’s really important to focus on the impact on the victims of Mr. Ilg’s crimes,” Waldref said in an interview. “This is a case where we have a doctor who is hiring hitmen on the dark web. This type of cybercrime can often be very difficult to detect and prosecute.”

Ilg spent the past 21 months in jail in lieu of bond while awaiting sentencing. His defense attorneys, Carl Oreskovich and Andrew Wagley, were arguing for a five-year prison sentence and no fine because of the loss of his medical practice.

After Ilg’s guilty plea in August, the Washington Medical Commission initiated disciplinary proceedings against Ilg based on his guilty plea to federal crimes. He will likely lose the medical license he has had to practice in Washington since September 2003, and even if he keeps it, he probably won’t be able to resume practice as a physician, his attorneys said.

“There’s not a practice in the Pacific Northwest, and probably the entire country, that’s ever going to hire Dr. Ronald Ilg,” Oreskovich told Nielsen before sentencing.

Prosecutors on Tuesday also introduced new letters Ilg sent while in jail to a different woman, described during proceedings as Ilg’s “fiancée.” Richard Barker, assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, also played a recorded phone call from jail in which Ilg suggests selling his story to be made into a film or book.

In one of the letters, Ilg suggests that his story would be “the next ‘50 Shades of Grey,’ but on steroids,” referencing the popular romantic fiction novel that explores dominant/submissive themes.

Oreskovich said after the sentencing hearing that he had only received the letters the night before sentencing and called their introduction “interesting timing.”

Barker, in an interview after the hearing, said it was important for Nielsen to see all of Ilg’s statements while in jail and awaiting sentencing, not just the apology he offered in the courtroom.

“The reality is he hasn’t changed a bit,” Barker said.

Nielsen said the contents of the letters would not influence his sentencing decision.

“It’s not surprising,” Oreskovich said of Nielsen’s decision to hand down the lengthier sentence, particularly after the statements of the victims.

That included the physician who worked with Ilg, and whose hands he’d sought an assailant to break. She called him a “magnificent monster” because of his outward calm demeanor.

The physician said she was informed of the dark web plot by a phone call from an FBI agent while she was vacationing with her young children on the Oregon Coast.

“I felt like someone had taken the breath from me,” the woman said, saying she had to fight the urge to vomit.

Ilg told Nielsen that when he posted the messages on the dark web, he felt like another person. His wife was seeking a divorce, and he felt that his sexual preferences had led to the human resources investigation that had cost him his job at his medical practice in December 2020. The tens of thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency he paid to carry out the deeds was like “Monopoly money,” he told the judge.

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When the FBI interviewed him upon his return from Mexico in April 2021, Ilg said he used lies that he had written on his phone to attempt to explain away his actions. He then attempted suicide with pills, and was in the hospital for a week before he was arrested and taken to jail.

Ilg said he was “paraded through the hospital that he’d worked at for almost 20 years.”

Nielsen said he appreciated the hardship Ilg was facing when he went on the dark web.

“You know, Dr. Ilg, all of us have problems from time to time, and we push through,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen agreed with the prosecution on the prison sentence, but reduced the fine requested by prosecutors. They wanted Ilg to pay a $250,000 fine; Nielsen reduced it to $100,000 and ordered Ilg to spend three years of supervised release after he’s out of prison.

The judge suggested such a sentence was preferable to what Ilg might have faced. He pleaded guilty to two counts of threats made in interstate commerce, but prosecutors had filed additional charges that included witness tampering and kidnapping.

“I feel that the plea agreement, for you, was a big break,” Nielsen said.

Ilg was led from the courtroom in handcuffs. He averted his gaze from witnesses as he left.