A lawyer accused of stealing is in even more hot water.
Elizabeth Zembko has already served prison time and surrendered her law license. Now, according to officials, she faces new charges after police said she stole from a former client.
When a lawyer is sworn in to practice in Connecticut, the second line of their oath is a promise to do nothing dishonest. However, the I-Team found that Zembko, who had been busted for shoplifting and theft, is now charged with scamming the former client out of $155,000.
The case of Zembko goes beyond the court appearance the I-Team attended last month, where she asked for more time to hire herself as an attorney.
“I'd ask for six weeks, your honor,” she told the judge.
The allegations against Zembko date back to 2004, when she was charged with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the New Britain law firm where she worked.
She voluntarily resigned from the practice of law in Jan. 2006 and agreed she'd never apply to be readmitted to the bar.
Zembko was then sentenced to 15 months in prison, according to court officials.
After her release, she was arrested again. First, for shoplifting a pricey handbag from Nordstrom's at the West Farms Mall and then for stealing $300 out of a friend's purse, officials said.
Now Zembko is charged with stealing again, but this time from a former client.
It began with a tip called into a Webster Bank branch in New Britain.
Police said they investigated and found that Zembko stole by using information she learned in representing the victim during a divorce.
They said she changed the address on an account so dozens of the woman's annuity checks went instead to Zembko's home in Farmington. It turned out to be $155,000 worth.
Police said she made calls pretending to be the former client and even prepared the client's tax returns as a way to hide the crime.
The I-Team tried to track down Zembko, but no one answered the door at her 5,000 square foot Devonwood Colonial home.
The I-Team did find that her LinkedIn social media account remains active, but viewers of her profile would have to look closely to find that she's not a lawyer. The page lists her law degree, her 16 years as a partner at a law firm and most of her skills are related to practicing law.
There's no mention of surrendering her law license, her multiple arrests or her trips to prison.
Mike Bowler is the statewide bar counsel. He can't speak about any case in particular, but he told the I-Team that lawyers are held to a high ethical standard. However, enforcement is different for non-lawyers.
“When people who are not lawyers or who used to be lawyers, but no longer, have that privilege, try to practice law, that's a red flag to the public and something we have to take care of,” Bowler said.
Since ethics codes don't apply to non-lawyers, the approach is often a class D felony charge of the unauthorized practice of law. It's an area the state said it takes very seriously.
“A lawyer is one of the few strangers in the world who you'll hand money to and trust them to protect it,” Bowler said. “And when you hand money to a person who is not a lawyer or who is a dishonest lawyer and they steal it, it hurts especially bad because you trusted that lawyer with your money and now that money is gone.”
To be clear, Zembko is not charged with the unauthorized practice of law. Officials said that could be because the charges she is facing already carry up to 40 years behind bars.
The I-Team will continue to keep an eye on her case.
Anyone with information about Zembko can visit the I-Team page here to send in a tip through the form on the right side of the page..
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