Deception and inaction in Norwich

If they are not already doing so, we would strongly urge Norwich police and all other appropriate law enforcement officials to take a hard look at Zane Megos, an unlicensed real estate broker with a history of deceptive practices.

In a two-part series beginning today, Day Staff Writer Claire Bessette documents numerous cases in which Mr. Megos accepted security and advanced rent deposits for apartments he knew were in such poor condition they were uninhabitable. In other cases these victims report being subjected to bait-and-switch tactics. Sometimes Mr. Megos strung along tenants for months with promises that an apartment would be ready.

When the individuals grew tired of the run around and demanded their deposits back, the story was often the same - Mr. Megos refusing to return their money or, at best, offering only a partial reimbursement.

Fraud is defined as the intentional deception of someone through misrepresentation, concealment or nondisclosure of material facts. That aptly describes the experiences of many intended renters who were unfortunate enough to respond to one of Mr. Megos' advertisements for rental units. Fraud is a crime.

Mr. Megos should know, because in 1983 he pleaded guilty to fraud. Then in 1988 the Connecticut Real Estate Commission revoked his real estate license after allegations he mishandled money from prospective buyers, failing to deposit money into escrow accounts or maintain separate accounts for buyers.

In 1992 the state reinstated Mr. Megos' license, thanks to sponsorship of a realtor, but Edith Baum withdrew her sponsorship in 2005 when new allegations of fraud surfaced. No criminal charges were filed, but Mr. Megos surrendered his license voluntarily.

In the latest series of abuses outlined by The Day's investigation, the victims were often those operating on the margins of society, facing desperate situations to find housing quickly and with limited resources to pay for it. Some had to borrow money to pay Mr. Megos, while others exhausted what little they had to meet his deposit demands, only to learn the apartment was "not ready."

Some moved in anyway, living in dwellings without running water, amidst unsafe conditions, only to be booted out when city building inspectors condemned the structures.

We learn of two people, both with kidney disease, forced to abandon their senior housing because of the need to care for a displaced 17-year-old niece, only to find themselves dealing with Mr. Megos as they sought a new apartment. Another duped woman was scrambling to find a home for herself and her child after the break up of a marriage. Then there is the ex-convict who is trying to rebuild her life after getting involved in drugs, only to have to deal with Mr. Megos, who kept taking her money to help renovate the apartment that was supposedly waiting for her. It never became available. She is still waiting to collect a $7,394 judgment she won in Small Claims Court.

That court was the only place tenants appeared to get relief, or at least the promise of relief, if they could collect. Some credit goes to Norwich Human Services and building inspectors, who have been chasing after Mr. Megos as best as their limited authority and staffing permitted, but the bottom line is that no agency was either able or willing to take aggressive action.

Various groups - Consumer Protection, city officials, the Better Business Bureau, police - told frustrated victims it was someone else's job to take a look at Mr. Megos, or dismissed the dispute as a civil matter best left to litigators that most of the victims could not afford.

If Mr. Megos' sins were ones of commission, the lack of help these people received from paid public officials was one of omission. Perhaps publicity brought about by this investigative reporting might get some results.

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