BEFORE THE HEARING BOARD

OF THE

ILLINOIS ATTORNEY REGISTRATION

AND

DISCIPLINARY COMMISSION

In the Matter of:

ROBERT JOHN HANKES,

Attorney-Respondent,

No. 6288209.

Commission No. 2019PR00102

FILED --- December 30, 2019

COMPLAINT

Jerome Larkin, Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, by his attorney, Scott Renfroe, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 753(b), complains of Respondent Robert John Hankes, who was licensed to practice law in Illinois on May 4, 2006, and alleges that Respondent has engaged in the following conduct which subjects him to discipline pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 770:

(Double-Billing, Creation of False Invoices and Conversion of $79,790)

1. Respondent was employed at the Chicago law firm of Vedder Price, P.C., from 2005 (when he was hired to work as a summer associate) through October 2, 2019 (when his employment was terminated as a result of the events described in this complaint). During his time at the firm, Respondent was involved in the representation of a financial institution ("the client") in various finance and leasing matters involving other companies. The client's agreements with its lessees allowed for the firm's fees for services it provided the client to be billed to the lessees (i.e., the client's customers) under certain circumstances.

2. In 2009, the firm performed services for a separate client (a construction company) in connection with a contract dispute. The firm assigned that matter an internal number that it used for billing purposes, and Respondent was aware of that number because he was the billing attorney responsible for the matter. That billing number became dormant in 2011, about two years after the firm's involvement in the contract dispute ended.

3. Prior to January 17, 2018, attorneys and others at the firm performed services having a value of $23,782.50 for the client in connection with the novation of a lease from one lessee to another lessee (an affiliate of the original lessee). Around that time, Respondent instructed the firm's accounting department to reactivate the formerly dormant billing number associated with the matter referred to in paragraph two, above, and he fabricated a billing invoice addressed to the client's customer that asked the customer to pay the firm $23,782.50. Respondent later caused that fabricated invoice to be sent to the client's customer, which paid the full amount listed in the invoice to the firm.

4. When the firm received the $23,782.50 payment in response to the fabricated invoice, Respondent directed the firm's accounting department apply that payment as a credit to the formerly dormant billing account, which he controlled.

5. Respondent also caused the client to be billed separately for the legal services the firm provided in connection with the novation of the lease, using the client's actual billing number. When the firm received payment from the client, it applied that payment to the client's account.

6. Between January 31, 2018 and September 27, 2019, Respondent fabricated an additional eight invoices to the client's customers, each of which used the formerly dormant billing account number rather than the client's actual billing number. At least some of those invoices asked that payment be sent to Respondent's home rather than to the firm. As payments totaling $108,674 were received in connection with those invoices, Respondent caused those amounts to be transferred to the dormant account that he controlled. At the same time, Respondent continued to bill the client for the same legal services, and to apply any payments resulting from those invoices to the client's account.

7. Respondent did not tell anyone associated with the client or with the firm about the fact that he was billing both the client and its customers for certain legal services, or that he was using a formerly dormant billing number to receive payments resulting from the fabricated invoices.

8. In 2018 and 2019, Respondent caused business and personal expenses that he incurred (including golf fees, dining and travel expenses) to be charged against the formerly dormant account, and requested and received payment of at least $79,790.43 from that account. Respondent knew that neither the firm nor the client were aware that he was charging those expenses to the formerly dormant account, and that neither the firm nor the client had authorized him to use those funds or that account to pay for his business and personal expenses. Respondent's receipt and use of those funds constitutes conversion.

9. By reason of the conduct described above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:

  1. conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, by conduct including fabricating invoices using a dormant billing number, double-billing for the same services, and converting payments from the fabricated invoices, in violation of Rule 8.4(c) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct.

WHEREFORE, the Administrator requests that this matter be assigned to a panel of the Hearing Board, that a hearing be held, and that the panel make findings of fact, conclusions of facts and law, and a recommendation for such discipline as is warranted.

Scott Renfroe
Counsel for Administrator
130 East Randolph Drive, #1500
Chicago, Illinois 60601
Telephone: (312) 540-5211
Email: srenfroe@iardc.org
Email: ARDCeService@iardc.org

Respectfully submitted,

Jerome Larkin, Administrator
Attorney Registration and
Disciplinary Commission

By:  /s/ Scott Renfroe
Scott Renfroe