A Phillips lawyer has been suspended from practicing law for six months and must pay court costs exceeding $10,000 after submitting fraudulent expense charges to a former employer.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered the suspension of attorney Beth M. Bant’s law license beginning Jan. 29 after accepting evidence of dishonest, fraudulent conduct and for violating state standards of conduct.
“The public, the courts, and the Wisconsin legal profession deserve the assurance that, before attorney Bant resumes practice, she will have successfully demonstrated to this court that she has made efforts to remedy the causes of her misbehavior,” wrote the court in a Dec. 18 opinion.
The disciplinary suspension stems from a March 2018 complaint filed by the Office of Lawyer Regulation alleging two counts of misconduct arising from Bant's work as an in-house lawyer for an insurance company in Wisconsin.
A referee investigating the case for the OLR alleged that during her employment with the firm, Bant received reimbursement for a $1,115 fee to a 2016 American Bar Association seminar in New Orleans, and had also uploaded but not formally submitted requests for reimbursement on $1,562.92 in hotel receipts, and other fabricated receipts from a restaurant and Uber car services related to the fictitious trip.
Bant fabricated receipts by using computer editing software to modify prior receipts with logos taken from hotel and restaurant websites.
According to court documents, Bant was spotted in town while she was allegedly attending the seminar in New Orleans. When her employer later questioned her about being spotted, Bant claimed she had been ill. The supervisor asked for a timeline of her activities, and Bant submitted a handwritten timeline that was later determined to be false. Additionally, when she turned in the timeline, she told her supervisor she had been physically assaulted while in New Orleans.
Upon a further audit of her travel expenses, additional fraudulent charges of $557.28 were found to have been paid out by her company for a three-night stay in a hotel in Madison for a legal education seminar earlier in 2016. While Bant did attend that seminar, her stay at the hotel was fabricated.
Bant was terminated shortly after the fraudulent expense reports had come to light. She voluntarily reimbursed her employer $1,672.28 for the amounts she had been paid out.
During her time with the insurance agency, Bant was also a certified public accountant and a certified fraud examiner, according to court documents.
“Attorney Bant’s conduct was laced with calculated dishonesty,” wrote the court. “She submitted an assortment of meticulously faked receipts purporting to establish her visit to a city in which she had not stepped foot, for a conference she could not possibly have attended. When her employer questioned her story, she doubled down on it, drafting a detailed fictional account of her time in New Orleans and claiming to have been physically assaulted there.”