CHARLESTON – A Martinsburg law office that was raided by the FBI in November now is being named a defendant in a federal lawsuit by a former employee who claims the firm overbilled clients.
Martin & Seibert LC was named in a lawsuit by Christine Blanda, a former employee who claims she is the one of the professionals who brought alleged mail and wire fraud to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The complaint was filed Jan. 28 in U.S. District Court in Charleston.
Firm shareholders Walter M. Jones III, Geoffrey A. Haddad, Michael M. Stevens, Susan R. Snowden and E. Kay Fuller also are named as defendants, as well as Chief Operating Officer Nikki Moore Gress.
Blanda says she worked at the firm from 2005 to 2015 as an accounts receivable clerk. As part of that job, she says she processed all of the billings of the firm.
On Jan. 26, 2015, Blanda says she was fired because she complained to Gress, her supervisor, about “excessive and unjustified billings to publicly traded companies” and “was cooperating with other professionals” on the FBI investigation.
On Nov. 17, the FBI executed a search warrant on the firm’s Martinsburg office.
When the raid occurred, the firm issued a statement saying the FBI “aggressively seized property and detained personnel from the firm’s headquarters” after alleged threats were made on social media by former employees.
“While an action of this magnitude comes as a surprise to the firm, we were fully aware of current threats and claims against the firm by former, disgruntled employees,” the statement read. “Over the last twelve months, several attempts were made via social media to defame the character and business practices of Martin & Seibert, L.C.”
The firm said a larger attack then was coordinated.
“Martin & Seibert, L.C. remains steadfast to our most valuable asset, our employees, whom unfortunately are the most affected by this unfortunate event,” the statement read. “We are, and will continue to fully cooperate with the FBI as the investigation ensues and are confident we will rise above these allegations and return our focus back to our clients.”
In her federal complaint, Blanda says the defendants “continued to retaliate and threaten” her, also telling current employees that the firm and others “were responsible for initiating the federal investigation and that the plan of the defendants was ‘to mount a campaign to destroy them.’”
She says the threats amounted to threatening a federal witness.
Blanda seeks compensatory damages of reinstatement with the same seniority status she would have had, two times the amount of back pay with interest and compensation for any special damages such as court costs, attorney fees and witness fees. She also seeks punitive damages for the threatening of a federal witness. She also seeks compensatory and punitive damages for emotional distress, annoyance, aggravation and inconvenience.
She is being represented by Richard Neely, Michael Callaghan and Joshua R. Martin of the Charleston law firm of Neely & Callaghan.
A representative for Martin & Seibert did not return calls seeking comment, and Callaghan declined further comment.
U.S. District Court case number 2:16-cv-00957