DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Four of 14 attorneys who were paid by Iowa to represent low-income defendants have been convicted of overbilling the state following state audits in 2013 and 2014 that found excessive billings of nearly $500,000.
Ney McDaniel, Jennifer Lynn Meyer, Richard Jay Buffington and Matthew Louis Noel have pleaded guilty to fraud and theft charges. The 10 other attorneys have repaid the state, but weren’t criminally charged, The Des Moines Register reported.
Auditors said the attorneys made excessive billings or mileage reimbursement claims during a nearly five-year period that ended in August 2013.
Meyer maintains that she didn’t intentionally submit false claims for work. Buffington and Noel declined to comment to the newspaper. McDaniel couldn’t be reached by the newspaper for comment.
Most of the cases that weren’t prosecuted involved unintentional bookkeeping errors, said Kurt Swaim, a former state representative and first assistant public defender for the state.
“It’s not fair to paint everybody who (is) listed in the auditor’s reports with the same brush,” Swaim said.
Iowa’s antiquated billing system may also be contributing to billing errors, said attorney Alfredo Parrish of Des Moines.
There is sometimes confusion about what services an attorney can bill the state. Iowa rules generally don’t allow court-appointed attorneys to be compensated for paralegal costs or time spent traveling, Parrish noted.
Attorneys so far have been ordered or voluntarily agreed to repay more than $250,000, Swaim said. The state is seeking repayment in multiple cases not involving criminal charges, including one case involving more than $100,000, he said.
The state has canceled or didn’t renew contracts it had with nine attorneys listed in the audits. The Iowa Public Defender’s office has also redesigned its reporting system so suspicious or overlapping claims are identified and flagged for review before payment.
Iowa pays more than $30 million annually to represent thousands of residents statewide.
Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com