A former Bristol attorney and town councilor was sentenced to 46 months in prison Tuesday for stealing more than $169,000 from clients while she served as a court-appointed conservator.
Probate courts appoint conservators to oversee the financial or personal affairs of adults incapable of managing their finances or personal care. But according to authorities, 43-year-old Jodi Zils Gagne used that position to help herself to the wards’ assets.
Prosecutors said Zils Gagne defrauded several people under the court’s protection, including a client older than 90 and another who had multiple sclerosis. They say she also misappropriated their money and overbilled them.
In addition to the prison time, Zils Gagne’s sentence includes three years of supervised release. She was released on $50,000 bond and ordered to report to prison on July 8.
Authorities said Zils Gagne, who pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud, misappropriated money that was intended for clients’ medical care, housing, other bills and personal expenses.
In one case, prosecutors said Zils Gagne defrauded a victim of $130,000. Authorities said she took $113,000 of that money under the guise of an investment when, in fact, it was a 10-year-old 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, the government said, also misrepresented, or failed to disclose, material facts about her conservatorship activities to the Bristol probate court and others between May 2015 and February 2018.
The government said in court papers that Zils Gagne, an attorney for 16 years, 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. Authorities say Zils Gagne 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’s attorney, Francis O’Reilly of Southport-based O’Reilly & Shaw, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. But her March 28 memorandum in aid of sentencing argued that Zils Gagne had done a lot of good work in the community and therefore deserved home confinement.
The memo stated the former attorney has a “lack of prior incarceration, family responsibilities, history of physical and mental health concerns, cooperation with federal authorities regarding her own criminal conduct and that of others, and prior good works in the community.” It asked for a sentence of one-year home confinement, which would allow for Zils Gagne to “address her physical and mental health concerns in a less-restrictive environment.”
The government, in its April 2 sentencing memorandum, saw things differently.
“Ms. Zils Gagne abused her position of trust as a conservator and an attorney to prey on some of the most vulnerable victims in our society, the elderly and the infirm, to steal nearly $170,000 to benefit herself,” the memo states. “She stole their money, overbilled them for fictitious services, profited from the sale of their homes, engaged in self-dealing, and papered over a sweetheart loan for her husband’s start-up business, which soon failed.”
The memo continues: “When questioned by other attorneys and the probate court, Ms. Zils Gagne repeatedly lied, including under oath, to prevent the full truth from coming out.”