Former Vedder Price shareholder gets 3-year suspension for double billing and false expense claims

Ethics

Former Vedder Price shareholder gets 3-year suspension for double billing and false expense claims

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The Illinois Supreme Court suspended a former Vedder Price shareholder after a hearing panel found he twice billed for legal services, then sought reimbursement for false expenses from the money collected wrongly.

In a Jan. 20 order, the state Supreme Court suspended Robert John Hankes for three years with the requirement that he also attend a professionalism seminar.

Hankes received more than $1 million in annual compensation in 2018, but offered no explanation for his misconduct, according to a September 2021 report and recommendation from the Registration and Disciplinary Commission’s review panel. Illinois prosecutors.

Hankes has worked at Vedder Price since being hired in 2005 as a summer associate. He was fired in October 2019 after the alleged wrongdoing was discovered.

The board said Hankes received nearly $80,000 that rightfully belonged to clients as a result of his misconduct.

According to the review board, Hankes created several false customer invoices, arranged for payments on those invoices to be credited to a formerly inactive account, and then submitted false expense claims to his law firm to have them credited. are paid from the reactivated account.

The double billing arose from Hankes’ representation of a financial institution in financing and leasing matters involving other companies. The financial institution’s agreements with corporate clients allowed them to be billed directly for legal services in certain circumstances.

Hankes billed the financial institution and its clients for the same legal work, wrongfully collecting nearly $109,000 which he applied to the reactivated account, the review board said. He also billed another client nearly $7,500 using a fake invoice, according to the review board.

Hankes then sought reimbursement for expenses that had not been incurred for the law firm, according to the review board. For example, he asked about $2,100 for a “customer event” and a “race day” event. He asked for nearly $2,600 to buy a crossbow, supposedly for a gift. He demanded $13,700 for plane tickets and nearly $17,000 for first class plane tickets to Moscow which he did not use. Instead, he applied the flight credit to his personal credit card. Based on his bogus claims, Hankes was awarded nearly $80,000.

Hankes made a restitution the day before his disciplinary hearing, the review board said. Other mitigating factors were that Hankes admitted wrongdoing when confronted by Vedder Price’s general counsel, self-reported his conduct to ethics authorities, and was candid during the hearing. ethics. He also had no prior discipline and a history of significant pro bono legal work.

Vedder Price’s general counsel told the ABA Journal in January 2020 that the firm had repaid all amounts owed to its client. At the time, Hankes was accused of false invoicing involving only the financial institution and its customers. General Counsel Michael Mulcahy had no further comment when contacted by the ABA Journal on Monday.

Hankes specialized in aircraft financing at Vedder Price, according to Reuters coverage of the matter.

The suspension takes effect on February 10.

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