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New London attorney Yona Gregory was in Small Claims Court on May 22 on an unrelated matter when she heard a familiar name - Zane Megos.
Soncherie Silvan and Phillip Dudley had just told the judge that Megos had paid them the remaining $1,000 from a deposit on an apartment that never became available. Silvan said her case was resolved.
"That was the first time I had heard of anyone getting their money back (from Megos)," Gregory said.
She had read a May 6 article in The Day in which more than a dozen people said they had given cash deposits to Megos, a Norwich businessman, to rent apartments or to purchase houses in Norwich and New London that never became available. Some of the apartments were in condemned buildings owned by Megos. In other instances, he allegedly told potential renters and buyers that he was representing the owners.
That story quoted Megos' attorney Harry Traystman: "Zane will obviously comply with any court order to make payments."
Gregory went back to her office and pulled out a file from 2010, when Marjorie Leonard and family members came to Gregory's office and said they had been left homeless after paying Megos $4,000 to rent a house at 77 Blackhall St. that he didn't own and didn't have the authority to rent.
Gregory sent a letter to Traystman on May 23, enclosing with it a copy of the Small Claims Court judgment for $4,625 including court costs Leonard won on June 28. Payment was due by July 26.
"I was pleased to read in today's article in The Day newspaper that you, as Mr. Megos' attorney, indicated that Mr. Megos would comply with any court order to reimburse prospective tenant," Gregory wrote. "I kindly request your assistance with Mr. Megos' compliance with the judgment."
Traystman said Wednesday that he had received and read the letter.
When asked for a comment, he said: "None. I don't try my cases in the newspaper."
Gregory said she planned to contact Traystman later this week to try to arrange payment. She said Megos had told her in 2010 to send a release and he would reimburse the family.
"I sent a release and never heard back from him despite several attempts to contact him," Gregory wrote in the letter to Traystman.
The Day's investigation showed how difficult it is for those who prevail in Small Claims Court to collect their settlements.
"We are definitely hoping to be aggressive with Mr. Megos, because this is money that literally was stolen from them," Gregory said. "They did everything they thought they were supposed to do, and Mr. Megos took advantage of them. … For my client, this is a significant amount of money."
Gregory said she took their case pro bono and also tried to get Norwich and New London police to investigate. Neither department was interested, she said. She said she was disappointed in the police response because she felt strongly that it warranted a criminal investigation.
"We felt so bad for these people," Gregory said. "They came into my office with a brand new baby and literally (were) homeless."
Norwich police detectives are conducting criminal investigations into Megos' activities in Norwich but would not discuss details of the investigations.
Leonard told The Day in April that she saw a newspaper ad for apartments and contacted Megos. He showed her a house at 77 Blackhall St. Her family paid Megos $4,000 for first and last month's rent and for a security deposit.
"Then he said he was going to do the repairs on it, and we went back there and there were no repairs done," Leonard said. "He said, 'My worker's sick and has been delayed.' And we just went and filed the report. We waited a week after the deadline. We were supposed to be in there by the 8th and there was nothing done. It looked worse than before."
Leonard, who is disabled, ended up staying in her apartment in Norwich.
Megos will have a court appearance Friday on third-degree assault and second-degree breach of peace charges stemming from an altercation March 24, when two cousins confronted him in an attempt to get deposit money back for an apartment that was condemned.
Norwich police Officer Greg McDonald said a young man in his 20s reported that he had given Megos a deposit for an apartment at 75 Fourth St. in Greeneville, a building condemned last September. The young man told police Megos wouldn't return phone calls and later said he was in the hospital and was delayed in providing the refund.
The man and his cousin worked out a plan to confront Megos, McDonald said. The cousin called Megos and pretended to be interested in an apartment. He arranged to meet Megos in the parking lot of the former Tim Horton's doughnut shop on Route 82. The man who had given the deposit went there earlier and waited in hiding.
When Megos arrived, McDonald said, the would-be renter confronted him and asked for his money. Megos asked for the cousin's identification and in a brief tugging over the ID, Megos allegedly scratched the man's hand. The cousin then lifted his shirt and revealed a two-pronged, 9-volt stun gun but did not handle the gun, McDonald said.
Megos drove away, and the two men wrote down his license plate number and went to the police department to file a complaint. McDonald said that as he was taking their complaint, Megos, too, arrived and was arrested for third-degree assault and second-degree breach of peace.
McDonald said the two men turned over the stun gun to police and were not charged in the incident.
Megos was released on a $2,500 nonsurety bond and has pleaded not guilty to the charges.