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Iowa Watchdog

Audit finds $355,000 in improper billing in Iowa public defender office

9/8/2014

Photo courtesy of the state of Iowa. OVERBILLED: A new audit report concludes that the Office of the State Public Defender has been overbilled by $355,000 by some of its contract attorneys.

Photo courtesy of the state of Iowa.
OVERBILLED: A new audit report concludes that the Office of the State Public Defender has been overbilled by $355,000 by some of its contract attorneys.

DES MOINES, Iowa — If all the claims for payment Jennifer Meyer submitted while working for the Office of the State Public Defender are accurate, then she’s the hardest working attorney in Iowa.

According to a new report from the Office of State Auditor, Meyer billed the state on 30 occasions for days on which she claimed to work a full 24 hours or more.

Those impossibly long work days account for $28,332 of the almost $104,000 the audit says Meyer improperly charged the state.

The report, released Thursday, examined the bills submitted by private attorneys who received contracts from SPD to represent indigent defendants from July 2009 to August 2013.

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The auditors determined 14 contract attorney had overbilled the state. The total amount was more than $355,000.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation has opened an investigation into the activities of the attorneys named in the report.

The audit was launched after it was discovered last year that five SPD contract attorneys had been overbilling the state. All five were fired by SPD.

So far, only one of those five attorneys is facing criminal charges.

Ney McDaniel, who is alleged to have overbilled the state by $178,000, has been charged with first-degree theft and first-degree fraudulent practice and is currently awaiting trial.

Like Meyer, McDaniel submitted multiple bills in which he claimed to have worked more than 24 hours in a day.

Meyer declined to speak with the auditors to explain her billing practices. Iowa Watchdog attempted to contact Meyer, but was unsuccessful.

Only one of the attorneys named in the report spoke with auditors.

Attorney Dennis Mathahs blamed mistakes made by his secretary for his overbilling, which the report estimates at $48,000.

Mathahs, who disputes the auditors’ estimate, has since reimbursed the state $9,632.

The auditors concluded the overbilling was made possible by SPD’s failure to carefully review claims when issuing payments.

State Public Defender Sam Langholz issued a statement Thursday explaining his office had already canceled the contracts of all the attorneys named in the audit report.

Langholz also said his office has already implemented “proactive changes… to detect and prevent further improper billing by indigent defense contract attorneys.”

The changes include requiring greater detail for expenses submitted for payment and limiting attorneys to billing no more than 16 hours a day.

But even with those changes, providing proper oversight will still be a challenge for SPD. The office only has 18 supervisors. According to Assistant State Public Defender Kurt Swaim, SPD currently has 1082 contract attorneys.

Last year, SPD received 60,929 claims totaling almost $31 million from contract attorneys, Swaim informed Iowa Watchdog via email.

Contact Paul Brennan at pbrennan@watchdog.org. This story originally appeared on Watchdog.org.

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