The state Supreme Court has upheld a 2012 jury verdict that awarded St. Bernard School in Uncasville more than $800,000 in a lawsuit against Bank of America.The parochial school, operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich, sued the bank in 2008, claiming that it negligently let a longtime school employee loot more than $840,000 from its account.In its opinion, released Tuesday, the court directed that $5,156.42 be reduced from the total award, plus interest, because St. Bernard’s claims were subject to a three-year statute of limitations under the Uniform Commercial Code, which governs sales and other transactions.“The findings of the State Supreme Court in favor of St. Bernard School is a gratifying outcome on many levels," diocese spokesman Michael Strammiello said."This decision exonerates the finance department at the school and recognizes the bank as the negligent party. Not to be forgotten is that it was the finance administrator at the school who discovered the wrongdoing in the first place," Strammiello said.The findings ensure that the funds will be rightfully reclaimed, he said."At a time when St. Bernard School is experiencing so many positives, including increasing enrollment, the diocese joins with the St. Bernard School board and administration in being grateful for a just outcome."Reached Wednesday morning, attorneys for Bank of America declined to comment. Michael Colonese, the lawyer representing St. Bernard, had not returned a phone call by Wednesday afternoon.The events leading to the lawsuit, court cases and the Supreme Court opinion began more than a decade ago.Salvatore R. Licitra Jr., 47, formerly of East Lyme, is serving a seven-year prison sentence for stealing from the school between December 2002 and September 2006. Licitra was convicted of first-degree larceny. He was sentenced on Sept. 11, 2008, and is due to be released no later than Jan. 22, 2015.Beginning as a part-time bus driver, Licitra worked his way up to school bus coordinator, computer technician and later to accounts payable.In 2002, Licitra went to a Fleet Bank branch in Norwich and opened a bank account he called “Saint Bernard’s High School Norwich Diocese Camp Sunshine, c/o Sal Licitra.” Bank of America acquired Fleet Bank in 2004.Licitra used numerous schemes to move money from a St. Bernard account, also with Fleet Bank, to his Camp Sunshine account. He had no authority to withdraw money from St. Bernard’s account.According to legal filings in the case, Licitra told third parties paying money to St. Bernard to make checks out to the Camp Sunshine account, which he then endorsed and deposited.Licitra also fraudulently deposited, and the bank accepted, unendorsed checks made out to “Saint Bernard High School” into his private account.He also wrote checks from St. Bernard’s account to the Camp Sunshine account for bills the school never owed.
Licitra’s embezzlement continued until his position was eliminated in 2006. He was arrested in July 2007 after Norwich diocese officials discovered the scam.
In its trial defense, Bank of America said St. Bernard waited too long under the terms of its deposit agreement to make a claim.
Trial Judge James Devine ruled that the deposit agreement time limit violated a state law that says banks have a responsibility to keep their customers’ money safe.
Devine also told jurors that the time limit could be waived if they found that the bank’s later conduct was related to its first actions or if Bank of America had a “special relationship” of continuing trust and duty toward St. Bernard.
The bank’s appeal said the judge’s instruction to the jury was improper, and the time limit should be applied.
Bank of America also asked that the verdict be cut by $100,000, the amount paid to St. Bernard by its insurer.