Jury convicts Port EMT of misconduct for padding hours

Woman who refused to plea to misdemeanor now guilty of a felony
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

A jury found a Port Washington Fire Department EMT and administrative assistant guilty last week of felony misconduct in office and misdemeanor theft.

Lisa Theis is scheduled to be sentenced by Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Sandy Williams at 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8.

Theis was convicted of intentionally misrepresenting the hours she worked in the fire department so that she was paid $1,353 over the course of a year beginning in September 2019.

Theis was originally charged with two misdemeanor counts but the district attorney’s office changed one count to a felony after the two sides could not reach a deal in the case.

The case revolved around department payroll records and the way they were recorded on an Excel spreadsheet.

Prosecutors argued that Theis, who was  responsible for entering call log data into the payroll system, deliberately inflated the number of hours she worked, reporting hours for calls she didn’t work or that never happened.

The Excel program automatically calculated totals every time it was refreshed. Officer Taylor Russell said that Theis would enter false hours, refresh the program to generate totals, then reduce her hours on the spreadsheet but not refresh the program so the totals still reflected hours she didn’t work, according to the criminal complaint.

Theis testified during the trial that she did not intentionally falsify department records but, with two sons about to leave home, was trying to calculate her withholding using different scenarios so she would not owe any taxes.

Her situation was complex, she said, because she was paid five different rates in the department depending on her role.

Theis testified that after she entered the correct information for everyone, including herself, and saving it, she would alter her hours and calculate the information she needed. She would then remove the incorrect information and save the document.

However, the spreadsheet needed to be refreshed to save the now-corrected data, and she didn’t always remember to do that, Theis said.

“I didn’t put a lot of thought into it,” she said. “I just knew I wanted to do the simulation. It wasn’t supposed to go anywhere.”

However, Assistant District Attorney Benjamin Lindsay argued that Theis, who had worked for years in finance and banking and as a tax preparer, intentionally entered the wrong information and didn’t correct it.

“Ms. Theis’ actions speak louder than her words,” he said. “Her words do not make sense. They are not believable.”

Even if she wanted to figure out future withholding, Lindsay said, “the way she goes about it makes no sense.”

Theis could have waited to run her calculations until after the payroll was submitted, he said, used a blank template or used a program independent of the city for that purpose.

Lindsay pointed out that Theis consistently entered false information and recorded it, in some cases adding herself to ambulance calls she never went on and sometimes creating false run numbers to create non-existent calls.

“She did it over and over again to the benefit of herself,” he said. “This was not misspelling someone’s name. This was inflating her hours.”

But Theis’ attorney, Jeffrey Jensen, disagreed, calling her actions “an honest mistake.”

“An honest mistake is not a crime,” he said. “It was kind of a boneheaded mistake. The mistake was not entering the provisional (false) data. The mistake was not hitting refresh.”

It was, Jensen said, the sort of mistake anyone not an expert in Excel spreadsheets could make.

If what Theis did is a crime, he said, anytime a clerk enters the wrong name on a line of the spreadsheet or log would be a crime.

Theis, he added, offered to repay the funds when confronted with her mistake.

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