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State v. Megos

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

September 5, 2017

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
ZANE R. MEGOS

          Argued May 17, 2017

          Kenneth A. Leary, for the appellant (defendant).

          Margaret Gaffney Radionovas, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Michael L. Regan, state's attorney, and Rafael I. Bustamante, assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Lavine, Mullins and Beach, Js.

         Syllabus

         The defendant, who previously had pleaded guilty to six counts of larceny in the fourth degree and was serving probation in connection with that conviction, appealed to this court from the judgment of the trial court revoking his probation and imposing a sentence of sixty months incarceration. The defendant had been charged with violating his probation following his arrest on charges of larceny in the third degree and criminal impersonation, which involved an incident in which he was alleged to have wrongfully obtained a deposit from F for a sham real estate transaction. The trial court found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant had violated his probation by committing the crimes charged. On appeal, the defendant claimed, inter alia, that the trial court erroneously found that he had violated the condition of his probation that he not violate any criminal law. Held:

         1. The trial court's findings that the defendant had violated his probation by committing criminal impersonation and larceny in the third degree were not clearly erroneous, there having been evidence presented that demonstrated that the defendant had impersonated another individual and acted in a manner so as to defraud F and to permanently deprive her of her money: the evidence showed that the defendant previously had defrauded two other victims by wrongfully retaining cash deposits for sham real estate transactions in which he falsely promised to rent or to sell them property in exchange for a cash deposit, that he had attempted to repeat that scam by obtaining money from F by falsely promising to rent her a condemned apartment, that he returned F's deposit only after she confronted him, and that, as part of his scheme to defraud F, he impersonated his business partner, gave F receipts previously signed by the business partner, and used the name of his business partner, not his actual name, when asked directly for his name, all of which demonstrated that he impersonated another person and acted in such assumed character with the intent to defraud F, and that he intended to permanently deprive F of the deposit by falsely promising a condemned apartment that would never be ready for her to occupy; moreover, although the defendant claimed that the court should have credited evidence he presented showing that he did not intend to permanently deprive F of her money, he did not return the deposit until F explicitly asked for it back, and it was the exclusive province of the court as the trier of fact to weigh conflicting testimony and to credit some, all or none of the defendant's testimony.

         2. The defendant's claim that the state did not establish that he wilfully or intentionally violated his probation or any laws was without merit; our Supreme Court has determined previously that wilfulness is not an element of a probation violation, as the state needs to establish only that a probationer knew of the condition and engaged in conduct that violated it, and the defendant here did not dispute that he knew that, as a condition of his probation, he could not violate any criminal laws of this state, and the record demonstrated that he engaged in conduct that violated the criminal laws of this state.

         3. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting testimony concerning two of the defendant's six prior convictions for larceny in the fourth degree, which was offered by the state to show a common scheme or plan; it is well settled that probation proceedings are informal and that strict rules of evidence do not apply to such proceedings, in which a broad evidentiary standard is applied, and on the basis of the similarity between the past crimes and the incident involving F, the trial court properly determined that the evidence regarding the prior crimes was relevant to the inference that the defendant intended to keep F's deposit.

         4. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in revoking the defendant's probation and imposing a sentence of sixty months incarceration; that court, which balanced the defendant's liberty and rehabilitation against the protection of society, found that the defendant was not amenable to probation, based on his similar conduct within months of the start of his probationary period, it considered the need to protect the public from the defendant's conduct, and it acted within its discretion by imposing the remainder of the defendant's sentence, which was not unjust or excessive.

         Procedural History

         Information charging the defendant with violation of probation, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New London and tried to the court, Williams, J.; judgment revoking the defendant's probation, from which the defendant appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          OPINION

          MULLINS, J.

         The defendant, Zane R. Megos, appeals from the judgment of the trial court revoking his probation pursuant to General Statutes § 53a-32 and imposing a sentence of sixty months incarceration. On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court: (1) erroneously found that he violated the conditions of his probation, (2) abused its discretion by admitting evidence of prior crimes that he had committed, and (3) abused its discretion by revoking his probation. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to our consideration of the defendant's claims on appeal. On April 29, 2014, the defendant pleaded guilty under the Alford doctrine[1] to six counts of larceny in the fourth degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-119 and 53a-125 (a).[2] His conviction on two of those larceny counts arose from incidents in which the defendant wrongfully obtained and withheld cash ‘‘deposits'' from the victims by falsely promising to rent them an apartment or sell them a house. In the first incident, the defendant received $1600 from a disabled, wheelchair-bound woman as a deposit on an apartment that he had advertised on Craigslist. The defendant told the victim that she would be able to move in on the first day of the month, but the apartment was not ready on that date. The defendant continued to tell the victim that the apartment would be ready at various dates in the future, but the apartment never was available when those dates arrived. The defendant did not return the victim's deposit, despite her request that he do so. In the second incident, the defendant obtained $4550 from another victim as a deposit on the purchase of a house. Several months after taking the deposit, the house was sold to someone else, and the defendant kept the victim's money.

         After pleading guilty to six larceny charges, the defendant was sentenced to six years incarceration, execution suspended, followed by three years of probation. The terms of the defendant's probation, which he signed on April 29, 2014, included the standard condition that he ‘‘not violate any criminal law of the United States, this state or any other state or territory.'' The defendant's probation began on April 29, 2014.

         Several months after his probation began, the defendant was involved in another incident in which he was alleged to have wrongfully obtained a deposit for a sham real estate transaction. Sometime in October, 2014, the defendant posted an online advertisement offering an apartment in Norwich for rent. At the time that the defendant posted that advertisement, however, the advertised apartment was condemned.

         On October 29, 2014, the defendant met with Nicole Foster. Foster, who was a disabled mother, was seeking to rent the apartment advertised by the defendant because a fire had destroyed her family's house in September, 2014. The defendant allowed Foster to view the apartment and told her that she would need to provide him with a cash deposit on that same day.

         Although she did not have the full deposit at that moment, Foster decided to rent the apartment advertised by the defendant and with her father, gave the defendant $500 in cash. Later that day, Foster tendered the rest of the cash deposit, totaling $2925 to the defendant. In return, the defendant gave Foster three receipts that had been presigned by the defendant's business partner, Bishop Taylor. According to the defendant, he and Taylor agreed to use receipts signed only by Taylor because the Norwich Building Department had a ‘‘vendetta'' against the defendant: ‘‘We didn't want to draw attention to the building department [that] I was involved in the building. We didn't want them coming out and writing . . . up the wazoo . . . new [building code] violations. . . . It wasn't with intent to defraud. I said to [Taylor] we're not gonna get this through if it's in my name.'' Upon examining the receipts, Foster's father told the defendant that he could not read ‘‘what your first name is, '' and the defendant answered ‘‘Bishop.'' (Emphasis added.)

         At this meeting, the defendant also informed Foster that the apartment was not ready because the city needed to perform inspections. The defendant had represented to Foster that an inspection would occur on several different dates. No inspections had been scheduled ...


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