A lawyer who allegedly billed clients for thousands of hours of work supposedly done while she was actually vacationing or taking care of personal matters has been indicted on charges of defrauding Harris Bankcorp and some of its corporate trust clients.
The 23-count indictment was handed up by a federal grand jury last week against Maureen Walsh Fairchild, a former partner with Chapman & Cutler, a 180-lawyer firm that specializes in financial services. In all, Ms. Fairchild is accused of bilking Harris, its customers, and other Chapman & Cutler clients out of $850,000. The lion's share of the amount cited in the indictment was money billed to Harris and eight of its customers.
The actual amount overbilled to Harris, a Chicago-based unit of Bank of Montreal, may have been much higher. The $18 billion-asset company said two years ago Chapman & Cutler paid it more than $1 million as reimbursement.
Ms. Fairchild, 40, now a resident of Ketchum, Idaho, was charged by the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois with 13 counts of mail fraud, nine counts of bank fraud, and one count of wire fraud.
She pleaded not guilty to the charges Friday, a day after the indictment was handed up. The charges are related to billings she submitted between 1991 and 1994.
Ms. Fairchild was fired from the firm in May 1994 after an internal investigation, said John M. Dixon, chief executive partner at Chapman & Cutler.
A Harris Bankcorp spokeswoman said the firm reimbursed the bank and its customers, and Harris has no intention of changing law firms. "Our relationship is as strong as ever," said Marci Kaminsky, vice president of public affairs. "No customers suffered any losses."
Ms. Fairchild is alleged to have sent inflated bills to clients and requested payments for legal services based on false reports. She also claimed reimbursement for personal expenses from clients and her firm, and created fictitious customers. After one Harris customer, Cologne Life Reinsurance Co., wrote to the bank complaining that Ms. Fairchild overcharged by $210,000, she billed the company another $210,000 for services never provided, according to the indictment.
In a separate case, Ms. Fairchild's husband, Gary, formerly of the Chicago law firm Winston & Strawn, pleaded guilty two years ago to cheating clients of $750,000. He was released from prison in September after serving 21 months.