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September 13, 2011 3:02 PM

Ex-Greenberg Traurig Partner Sentenced to Six Years for Overbilling Chicago Suburb

Posted by Brian Baxter

Mark McCombs, a former government affairs partner at Greenberg Traurig in Chicago, was sentenced to six years in prison Monday after pleading guilty to overbilling the suburb of Calumet Park, Illinois, by more than $100,000.

The 51-year-old McCombs, who served Calumet as special counsel on tax and municipal finance issues,  was charged in March 2010 after inquiries made by a local school superintendent and discrepancies found in presentations made by McCombs called attention to the fraud, according to reports by the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times.

Greenberg Traurig immediately fired McCombs, according to our previous reports, after prosecutors with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office accused him of bilking the village where a street was once named in his honor of more than $1 million.

Prosecutors said McCombs did not pocket the excess fees he billed Calumet Park, instead sending them to Greenberg Traurig as part of his billables and collections in order to increase his standing at the firm. Greenberg Traurig subsequently agreed to repay Calumet Park about $3.2 million in legal fees incurred by its former partner for past work at a rate of $600 an hour, some of which was never actually performed for the village.

"The day we learned of the allegations against McCombs, we pledged full cooperation with the investigation, and we pledged full restitution for any fees that were not properly billed," Greenberg Traurig said in a statement on McCombs's sentencing. "Within two weeks thereafter we reimbursed the city pursuant to a confidential agreement."

McCombs, who joined Greenberg Traurig in 2002, served Calumet Park as economic development counsel and special attorney for investigations. He also represented several other suburban Chicago municipalities as part of his practice.

Michael Gillespie, the son of famous Chicago criminal defense lawyer Terence Gillespie of Genson & Gillespie, is representing McCombs. Michael Gillespie told us that his client is "extremely sorry for what he did" and feels terrible for "disappointing the legal profession and his family."

Illinois State Bar records do not show any pending disciplinary proceedings against McCombs, who was officially taken into custody on Monday to begin serving his sentence, according to a press release by Cook County prosecutors.

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This would never have happened to either Calumet Park or the Greenberg Traurig lawyer if Calumet Park had anonymously tendered the work on a lump sum basis through the Legal BenchMarket tendering system or on an hourly basis or if they had used the services of e.g.Datacert for scrutinizing the justification of the invoices (@ $600 /hr). We all know how much lawyers are under pressure to achieve their annual goals for billable hours. In this society optimizing income is common place. The buyers of legal services should be more vigilant and use the available tools to control costs rather than signing off any incoming invoice. However, the sentence is surprisingly severe.Time enough for Mr McCombs to think this all over.

The only reason this guy was ever prosecuted is because he was ripping-off a municipality with their own in house lawyers who appear to have done their jobs for once. Had it been a rich private client, they would have given him a raise.

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