Masse v. Perez
Benefit on behalf of the defendant is not an element of statutory theft pursuant to C.G.S. §52-564. Velma Krestan set up a trust naming her grandson, Richard Masse, Jr., as sole beneficiary. Krestan named Susan Perez, Krestan's daughter, and Masse's mother, as trustee. From 1995 to 2001, Perez expended trust funds for Masse's benefit. In 2001, the trust cumulatively was valued at $46,522.54. Perez withdrew those funds. Masse brought suit against Perez essentially alleging that the defendant removed funds from the trust for her personal use without the plaintiff's authorization or consent. Following a court trial, judgment entered for the plaintiff on counts of breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, statutory theft and unjust enrichment. The defendant appealed claiming, inter alia, that the court improperly awarded treble damages for statutory theft pursuant to C.G.S. §52-564 despite insufficient evidence regarding her intent to deprive the plaintiff of moneys. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The panel disagreed with the defendant's contention that the court, to establish intent, relied on the single action of the defendant's withdrawal of the funds and on the adverse inference that the plaintiff used the money for her own benefit, based on its disbelief of the defendant's testimony that she used the money for the plaintiff's benefit. The trial court did not credit the defendant's testimony that the plaintiff had instructed her to withdraw the funds and put them in the names of his half brother and half sister because he needed the money out of his account to receive state benefits. The court found that Perez was unable to explain satisfactorily how she used the money, that she did not use it for the plaintiff's benefit and it was no longer in the trust account. The court had before it the testimony of the plaintiff that he did not so instruct the defendant and the defendant's former husband that the defendant had, "without telling [the plaintiff] started taking money from his account." Sufficient evidence supported the finding that the defendant withdrew the funds with intent to deprive the plaintiff of those funds. Although the plaintiff arguably offered no affirmative evidence that the defendant benefitted from the withdrawal of the funds as claimed, benefit on behalf of the defendant is not an element of statutory theft.