The Milwaukee attorney Robert Menard, who billed himself as a lawyer for the “average Joe,” is accused in a 14-count criminal complaint of stealing from his former law partner, his uncle and various clients.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney Office, in a criminal complaint filed on Monday, accused Menard of stealing more than $700,000 in settlement money from clients and raiding the retirement account of his longtime partner, Alan Derzon, to pay personal expenses and fund the operations of the firm they ran together, Derzon & Menard.
It was only the latest sign of trouble for Menard. He’s also faced with a complaint from the Office of Lawyer Regulation charging him with mishandling clients’ money, as well as a lawsuit from Derzon. Menard previously settled a lawsuit brought by his uncle, Philip Menard, accusing him of embezzling a $500,000 insurance settlement and using the cash to pay other clients.
The criminal complaint charges Menard with nine counts of embezzlement, four counts of forgery and an additional count of misconduct in public office. Investigators arrested Menard on Monday and he is being held in the Milwaukee County Jail.
“Robert Menard has for many years engaged in an extensive pattern of theft and fraud,” Kurt Benkley, Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney, wrote in the complaint.
The criminal complaint names at least 10 clients whom Menard stole from over the course of several years. This practice of depositing clients’ money into the firm’s account—instead of a separate trust account as required by law—allowed Menard to use the money as he pleased, according to the complaint.
For years, Menard had been taking money from the trust accounts of clients to keep his firm solvent, Edward Walkowicz, a long-time accountant there, said during a deposition cited in the criminal complaint. Prosecutors are also arguing that Menard has been using clients’ money to pad his own pockets.
And even despite an OLR complaint filed in April 2018 that threatened to disbar him, Menard continued to embezzle money, prosecutors argue, citing the firm’s bank records for the years 2016 to 2019.
In four cases, Menard forged the signature of his clients to embezzle the money they were owed. After winning a $35,116 settlement for a driver who suffered a knee injury on the job, Menard forged the man’s signature to endorse and deposit the check.
The criminal complaint also accuses Menard of taking a $500,000 settlement that he had won for his uncle after he had been struck by a car while mowing his lawn. Menard stalled for months as his uncle asked where his settlement check was.
According to investigators, Menard owed his uncle $333,333 from the settlement. But that money, in at least five instances, instead went to other clients, resulting in what Benkley called a “rob Peter to pay Paul” scheme.
Menard’s uncle, along with several other clients, never saw the money.
Some of the charges detailed in the criminal complaint overlap with charges in an OLR complaint filed last year. That case argued Menard took at least 175 checks worth more than $4.6 million that were intended to be kept in a trust account first. Menard has disputed the charges, and a hearing is scheduled in the matter for later this month.
Included in the OLR complaint were accusations that Menard, in 2013, drained his former partner Derzon’s retirement account, which contained more than $218,000, and used the money to pay some clients, business expenses and his children’s college tuition at Boston College and Drake University.
Menard also founded a new law firm, Menard & Menard, taking all of the assets of the business that he jointly owned with Derzon, according to the criminal complaint, even though Derzon was entitled to a 50% stake.
But Menard had long been deceiving his partner, according to Derzon’s lawsuit.
In his suit from 2017, Derzon contends he loaned Menard about $200,000 on two separate occasions to keep the firm afloat after Menard had told him the business was unable to keep up with its expenses.
Menard, who has a bachelor’s degree in accounting, handled most of the firm’s day-to-day operations, and was able to conceal much of his embezzlement for years, according to the suit.
In 2007, Derzon took out a $150,000 mortgage on his home and loaned it to the firm after Menard had told him the business was underwater. Then, in 2012, Derzon again loaned the company $47,000 from his retirement account when Menard told him the firm needed it.
Menard, meanwhile, was paying himself more than three times as much as Derzon was earning at the firm — which violated IRS rules and a shareholder agreement between the two. The suit argues that between 2012 and 2015, the firm paid Menard more than $1.1 million a year, and paid Derzon just $352,713.
The suit argues that the law firm would have been profitable had it not been for Menard.
“Derzon & Menard was a profitable business that was rendered unable to meet its current financial obligations due to Robert’s improper taking of funds,” according to the suit.Follow @natebeck9