A former Bristol attorney pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of mail fraud related to the theft of $169,000 from clients while she served as a court-appointed conservator.
Conservators are appointed by the probate court to oversee the financial or personal affairs of adults incapable of managing their finances or personal care. But according to the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, an officer of the court used the position to help herself to the wards’ assets.
Prosecutors said 43-year-old Jodi Zils Gagne defrauded several people under the court’s protection, including an impaired client older than 90 and another who had multiple sclerosis, by misappropriating their money and overbilling them.
Zils Gagne, also a former Bristol councilwoman who served until losing her seat in November 2017, misappropriated money that was intended for her clients’ medical care, housing, bills and personal expenses, according to the government.
In one case, Zils Gagne defrauded a victim of about $130,000, prosecutors said. She took $113,000 of that money under the guise of an investment when, in fact, it was a 10-year note that paid only a prime rate and was signed between her husband and her, as the victim’s conservator. The money, authorities said, was used to fund her husband’s startup internet radio station in Bristol.
Zils Gagne also misrepresented, or failed to disclose, material facts about her conservatorship activities to the Bristol probate court and others, the government said. The illegal activity, authorities said, occurred between May 2015 and February 2018.
The government said in court papers that Zils Gagne, in her role as conservator, fraudulently obtained and converted money and property from her victims through, among other means, commingling the victims’ money with each other and her husband’s business and personal funds. They say she misappropriated her victims’ money for her own personal use and enrichment, overbilled for conservator fees, and made materially false and fraudulent representations and omissions to the Bristol probate court and to at least one successor conservator concerning the use and expenditure of the victims’ money.
Zils Gagne now faces a maximum prison term of 20 years and a $250,000 fine. She was released Wednesday on a $50,000 bond pending sentencing on Jan. 23.
Her law license is also in jeopardy. At the request of the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel, a Superior Court judge suspended her from practicing law for five years. The attorney was also ordered to pay $108,000 in restitution.
Zils Gagne has been an attorney for about 16 years and most recently worked as a solo practitioner. If she satisfactorily completes 10 hours of continuing legal education, as approved by the Connecticut Bar Association, she could apply for readmission after one year.
The judge’s order in Zils Gagne’s disciplinary case calls for her to be supervised by an attorney in good standing during her suspension. It also allows for periodic random audits.
Zils Gagne’s attorney, Francis O’Reilly of Southport-based O’Reilly & Shaw Law Offices, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The matter was investigated by the FBI and the Greenwich Police Department with the assistance of the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel and the New Britain State’s Attorneys Office. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Huang. Tom Carson, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney, declined to offer further comment Thursday.