BRISTOL - Jodi Zils Gagne, a local lawyer and former town councilor whose law license was suspended last month, has pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud.
Gagne, 43, admitted Wednesday in federal court in Hartford to defrauding six people out of about $169,000, officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. In all of the cases, she had been the victim’s court-appointed conservator.
Part of her plea deal, court documents said, stipulates that she pay about $116,000 in restitution.
Federal officials said Gagne, beginning around May 2015, misappropriated the victims’ money and overbilled them.
Gagne is free on $50,000 bond pending sentencing, which is scheduled for Jan. 23. According to court papers, she could face up to 20 years in prison, although the terms of the plea deal indicate that a sentence of 41 to 51 months is more likely to be recommended to the judge.
According to court documents, Gagne, acting as conservator for an 89-year-old man, allowed a $110,000 loan from the man’s estate to fund the Bristol Beat internet radio station, which was primarily run by Gagne’s husband, Steve, before it signed off in November 2017.
Gagne, court papers continued, listed the loan generically under “investment” and admitted she should have known it was a bad investment. The payment schedule for the loan was set for 10 years, despite the man being 89 at the time, meaning he would never receive full benefit from the promissory note, according to court documents.
Last month, a state judge suspended Gagne’s right to practice law for five years, making a finding that she violated five rules of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Connecticut attorneys. The ruling allows Gagne to apply for readmission after one year if she completes a number of requirements, including taking 10 hours of continuing legal education - specifically in the areas of ethics and office management - and complying with all “outstanding Probate Court orders requiring reimbursement of monies improperly received” as a conservator, court papers said.
According to court documents, Gagne paid herself $19,039 in fees for working on the 89-year-old man’s estate. The state’s probate court only approved $8,535 of that amount and, despite being ordered to pay the rest back, Gagne kept it, court papers said.
Additionally, court documents state, Gagne sold a property belonging to the 89-year-old man initially valued at $120,000. The property was appraised by someone recommended by the buyer, a man who was related to Gagne and had formerly employed her, and the value “dropped significantly,” court papers said. Gagne did not seek an independent appraisal before the sale, which was completed for $47,996.
Gagne and her husband later received a “finder’s fee” of $6,043, which came from profits the buyer realized after refurbishing and selling the property, according to the memorandum. This fee was not disclosed to the 89-year-old, his attorney or the probate court, the documents continued.
Court documents also said Gagne sold another property belonging to one of her wards, using the same appraiser, and received a $2,160 “finder’s fee.”
Gagne, a judge ruled in her law license suspension, allowed one of her ward’s accounts to lapse into a negative balance, transferred money among her wards’ accounts, withdrew money from them and erroneously deposited money into them.
Justin Muszynski can be reached at 860-973-1809 or firstname.lastname@example.org.