Former attorney, Salem probate judge pleads no contest in client embezzlement case

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John W. Butts
John W. Butts

John W. Butts of Salem, a former attorney and probate judge, pleaded no contest Friday to embezzling approximately $277,000 in assets from a client he represented in a probate matter.

He faces up to two years in prison for first-degree larceny when New London Superior Court Judge Hillary B. Strackbein sentences him March 15.

Butts, 66, who had a law office in Colchester, has surrendered his license to practice as an attorney and repaid some of the stolen funds, according to his attorney, Patrick A. Cosgrove.

In an agreement worked out by Cosgrove and prosecutor Kevin Shay from the Division of Criminal Justice, Butts accepted a plea offer involving 10 years in prison, suspended after up to two years served, followed by five years of probation. At his sentencing, his attorney has the right to argue for a shorter prison term.

Butts served as an estate attorney and was probate judge in Salem from 2003 to 2011.

In January 2018, he was arrested on charges that he used, for personal expenses, approximately $430,000 in funds he was holding for clients.

He pleaded no contest to the charges involving client Sofia Kachorowsky, managing the estate of Anna Krywonis of Norwich, who died in August 2013.

The state has agreed not to prosecute the other case, which involved client Kimberly Corbett.

The Division of Criminal Justice began investigating the Kachorowsky case after being contacted by Norwich Probate Judge Charles K. Norris. According to an arrest warrant affidavit, Butts failed to distribute the assets from the estate and did not respond to written requests and phone calls from the Norwich probate court.

The criminal justice division and state police investigation revealed that Butts' had deposited money from his client fund account — known as an Interest on Legal Trust Account and commonly referred to as an IOLTA — at Liberty Bank, into his personal account at People's United Bank.

k.florin@theday.com

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