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State Supreme Court upholds bank negligence in St. Bernard School embezzlement

By Karen Florin

Publication: theday.com

Published July 29. 2014 4:57PM   Updated July 30. 2014 1:48AM

The state Supreme Court has upheld a 2012 jury finding that Bank of America’s negligence enabled a former St. Bernard School employee to embezzle more than $800,000 from the school between 2002 and 2006.

In rejecting the bank’s appeal, the Supreme Court, in an advance release opinion published Tuesday, found that the $823,776 jury award to the school “neither shocks the conscience of this court nor falls outside the limits of just damages.”

Though St. Bernard prevailed in the case, the high court returned the case to the Superior Court with instructions to reduce the award by $5,156 plus interest because the school’s claim of damages under the Uniform Commercial Code was subject to a three-year statute of limitations.

Attorneys Cassie N. Jameson and Michael D. Colonese of the Brown Jacobson law firm in Norwich represented the school.

“We were very pleased with the decision,” Colonese said Tuesday evening. “We thought the jury got it exactly right. We think justice has been done.”

Hartford attorney Gerald L. Garlick, who represented Bank of America along with attorney Katherine E. Abel, declined to comment.

St. Bernard, a Catholic school operated in Uncasville by the Diocese of Norwich, filed suit in May 2008 after discovering that Salvatore Licitra Jr. had diverted more than $840,000 to an unauthorized account he set up at a Fleet Bank office in 2002. Bank of America acquired Fleet in 2004.

After a forensic accounting, the school referred the matter to state police, who arrested Licitra in July 2007, charging him with first-degree larceny, a felony. Licitra pleaded no contest and was sentenced in September 2008 to seven years in prison. He has since been released on parole, according to Department of Correction records.

In its suit, St. Bernard claimed the bank opened an account in 2002 for Licitra called the “Camp Sunshine” account without the school’s authorization or knowledge and failed to disclose the existence of the account through September 2006. The school charged that during that time, the bank deposited more than 1,200 checks into the account that either had no endorsements or “bore restrictive endorsements specifically directing that payment be made to the plaintiff’s Operating Fund.”

In its appeal, Bank of America had asserted, among other claims, that the trial court improperly denied its motion to reduce the jury award by the $100,000 that the school had recovered through an insurance claim. The Supreme Court wrote in its decision that in case law dating back more than a century, the court has held that defendants are not entitled to relief from paying any part of compensation due for injuries when payment comes from an independent source.

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