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Suspended lawyer gets jail time for embezzlement

A Milwaukee County judge has sentenced a suspended lawyer from Hartland to time in jail for embezzling money from his former employers.

Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Wall sentenced Matthew MacLean on Tuesday afternoon to nine months in jail at the Milwaukee House of Corrections in Franklin, with Huber privileges. MacLean will also be able to attend his son’s high-school graduation in June.

Wall said on Tuesday that he had read every one of the 36 letters MacLean submitted vouching for MacLean’s character and recognized that, in the last four years, MacLean and his family have suffered.

Wall spoke at length about MacLean’s mental-health troubles and their implications, but he said that MacLean’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder did not amount to a legal defense.

“It’s really not even an excuse for what happened here,” Wall said. “It does provide some explanation.”

MacLean, represented by Michael Hart of Kohler Hart Powell, Milwaukee, had argued for probation.

“It was a thoughtful, well-reasoned decision by an experienced judge who was clearly prepared and understands how to fashion an appropriate sentence,” said Hart after Wall issued the sentence.

On the other hand, the state, represented by Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley, had called  for between 12 and 18 months of jail time in order to deter future similar crimes and protect the public perception of the criminal-justice system.

“The public has to have confidence that this process is just and treats everyone the same,” Benkley said at the hearing before Wall sentenced MacLean.

Benkley and MacLean declined to comment after the sentencing.

During MacLean’s sentencing hearing Tuesday afternoon, Dean Strang, MacLean’s first attorney in the case, testified that MacLean was unusual among his clients because he took ownership of what he had done from the moment they first met at MacLean’s home in May 2014.

“I had expected to get lied to,” Strang said. “But I didn’t get lied to.”

MacLean also testified at the hearing as his wife and family watched.

“There is nothing I can say that can take away what I did,” he said. “I don’t blame anyone or anything. I blame myself.”

The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office charged MacLean in October with one count of embezzlement of more than $10,000 and one count of forgery. Both are felony charges.

The charges stemmed from the years MacLean was general counsel and chief compliance officer for Red Granite Advisors and Ziegler Lotsoff Capital Management, which rented space from MacLean’s former employer, Michael Best & Friedrich.

MacLean was found to have diverted more than half a million dollars from the companies, some of it meant to pay Michael Best. Much of the money was channeled to a limited liability company, BrickStix, which he had opened for his son.

The law firm reported him to the Office of Lawyer Regulation. Red Granite filed a complaint in 2014 with the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office.

The Wisconsin Supreme court suspended MacLean’s license in 2016 for two years. However, the Milwaukee DA’s office uncovered that he had embezzled an additional $161,132.42 from the company and forged documents in order to do so.

MacLean initially pleaded not guilty to both charges in November. Following negotiations, though, he pleaded guilty at a hearing in February to the theft charge. The forgery charge was dismissed and read-in.


About Erika Strebel, erika.strebel@wislawjournal.com

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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