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Judge suspends Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg from managing woman's finances

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg (Source: Live 5) Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg (Source: Live 5)
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) -

A Charleston County probate court judge has suspended Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg from managing an elderly woman's finances, saying Tecklenburg made loans to himself from her fund without getting prior approval from the court.

The order from Probate Judge Irv Condon was issued May 1.

In December 2008, Tecklenburg was appointed a conservator of close friend Johnnie Wineglass' finances after she fell victim to a series of scams, according to his personal Facebook page.

In his order, Condon ordered Tecklenburg to release details of the three loans, which totaled $80,000 over five years.

The court papers state the transactions show "apparent self-dealing," which in legal terms means someone takes advantage of his position for his own personal gain.

"It was never his (Tecklenburg's) intent to do anything that wasn't in her best interest," one of Wineglass' goddaughter's Rhonda Geddings said. "I trust him totally when it comes to her finances."

On his personal Facebook page, Tecklenburg explained details of each loan; $20,000 in 2011 and $35,000 in 2014 for his wife Sandy's business, an art gallery, and a personal loan for $25,000 in 2016.

Tecklenburg said each loan was repaid in full plus interest, which he says was reported to the court.

The mayor wrote that had no idea he violated any rules.

"I'd just like to say that I wish I had understood the need for preclearance on these transactions from the very beginning and that I'm genuinely sorry for any questions that has raised," Tecklenburg said. "During that time neither Sandy not I have profited in any way from the many hours I've spent managing Ms. Johnnie's finances without compensation."

Judge Condon, a Republican, is seeking re-election in November and running against Democrats Kelsey Willey and Stephanie Ganaway-Pasley. Joseph Tecklenburg, the mayor's son, is on Willey's campaign committee. 

The Goddaughter of Wineglass, Leila Potts Campbell, submitted a letter to Judge Condon in support of Tecklenburg which can be found below:

"Dear Judge Condon, 

Thanks for sending me a copy of the order about my Godmother, Johnnie Wineglass. I live in Maryland now but was in Charleston during the time my Godmother was committed to the care of John Tecklenburg. I worked with him and his wife Sandy as incredible efforts were taken to take care of her affairs and well being. John and Sandy are like family to Ms. Johnnie and  I am so thankful for all they have done for her. I highly recommend that John remain on as Conservator for my Godmother.

Sincerely, Leila Potts Campbell"

Tecklenburg, through a spokesman, declined further comment.

Probate Judge Irv Condon  has stated he is unable to comment on an ongoing case.

I have received media inquiries regarding a pending case. State law prohibits a judge from publicly commenting on a pending case. Below is the specific canon of the Code of Judicial Conduct, Rule 501 Canon 3(B)(9):

(9) A judge shall not, while a proceeding is pending or impending in any court, make any public comment that might reasonably be expected to affect its outcome or impair its fairness or make any nonpublic comment that might substantially interfere with a fair trial or hearing. The judge shall require * similar abstention on the part of court personnel * subject to the judge's direction and control. This Section does not prohibit judges from making public statements in the course of their official duties or from explaining for public information the procedures of the court. This Section does not apply to proceedings in which the judge is a litigant in a personal capacity.

A hearing has been scheduled in probate court for June 15.

Tecklenburg's full statement on Facebook can be found here or read in full below: 

Today, I'm releasing the statement below, documenting my service as conservator for a close family friend, Ms. Johnnie Wineglass. It's quite lengthy, but in a nutshell, here's what it says: As conservator of Ms. Johnnie's finances for the past ten years, my biggest concern has always been the fact that her medical and nursing home expenses are greater than her monthly retirement income, creating a drain on her savings that could leave her unable to pay for the care she needs. In an effort to address that, I have placed part of her savings into four investments over the years that have created a little more than $8,000 in profit for Ms. Johnnie: three loans to Sandy's businesses and myself that were paid back with interest, and a real estate tax sale. All loans were fully documented and disclosed to the Probate Court when they occurred, and were fully paid back on schedule with interest. During that time, neither Sandy nor I have profited in any way from the many hours I've spent managing Ms. Johnnie's finances without compensation. Despite this, the Probate Court of Charleston has initiated a review of my work as Ms. Johnnie's conservator, with a formal hearing scheduled for June 15. In response, I have respectfully asked the Court to publicly release all records associated with the case, including the check registers which show precisely how I've managed the account.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Almost ten years ago, Sandy and I were distressed to learn that a close family friend, Ms. Johnnie Wineglass, had been the victim of a series of financial scams that had left her personal finances in shambles. Of course, these kinds of crimes against the elderly are always upsetting. But when the victim is someone you know well and care deeply about, they're particularly heartbreaking, and you want to do what you can to help. That's why, in December of 2008, I agreed to serve as conservator of Ms. Johnnie's finances, which would allow me to protect her assets and her well-being in the years to come. I expended hundreds of hours in this role and never applied to the court for reimbursement of any expense or the value of my time.

Unfortunately, even after her finances had been stabilized and the scams brought to an end, it quickly became clear that Ms. Johnnie's large medical and nursing home expenses were draining her account in a way that put her future care in doubt. As a result, I started to look for ways to increase Ms. Johnnie's income without putting her small nest egg at risk. My certificate of appointment as conservator allowed the use of account funds without prior approval of a court.

As a part of that process, starting in 2011, I invested $25,000 of Ms. Johnnie's funds into a tax sale that yielded her $3000 of new income. In addition, given the minimal interest earned from money market and similar accounts, I also began to consider the option of making loans at the higher rate of 5% from the small trust account of Ms. Johnnie's whenever Sandy or I were planning to take out modest bank loans for our businesses or ourselves. That way, I believed I would be able to provide a reasonable return for Ms. Johnnie while personally ensuring repayment, thus guaranteeing that her assets were always protected.

On three occasions between 2011 and 2016, I authorized these sorts of loans on behalf of Ms. Johnnie. Each loan included a signed promissory note detailing the rate of interest and a clear repayment schedule. Each loan transaction was duly noted in my annual accounting report to the Probate Court. And each loan was repaid in full, on time, with interest.

The interest on these loans, along with the proceeds of the 2011 tax sale mentioned above, added $8,056.15 to Ms. Johnnie's trust -- about one-third of its current value.

A detailed accounting of those loans and repayments with interest is as follows:

Loan 1
Amount: $20,000
Recipient: Sandy's Open House of Charleston
Date: 08/19/2011
Interest: 5%
PAYMENTS:
10/11/11 $333.32
11/21/11 $166.66
12/19/11 $166.66
01/11/12 $166.66 
02/22/12 $166.66 
03/06/12 $333.32
05/04/12 $166.66
07/23/12 $166.66
09/17/12 $166.66
10/19/12 $166.66
12/18/12 $666.64
06/03/13 $333.32
08/23/13 $20,000.00
Total Payments 08/23/13 $22,999.88
Total Note Interest Earned $2,024.66
Overpayments: $975.22

Loan 2 
Amount: $35,000
Recipient: Sandy's Open House of Charleston, LLC d/b/a Meeting Street Gallery
Date: 12/09/2014
Interest: 5%
Advances:
12/09/14 $20,000
03/10/15 $10,000 
07/08/15 $5,000
PAYMENTS:
07/22/15 $5,000 Principal
12/28/15 $30,000 Principal
12/28/15 $1,375 Interest
Interest Paid: $1,375
Total Note Interest Earned: $1,463
Overpayment Applied from 08/14/11 Note: $88

Loan 3
Amount: $25,000
Recipient: John J. Tecklenburg
Date: 02/24/2016
Interest: 5%
Advances:
02/24/16 $20,000
04/25/16 $5,000
PAYMENTS:
03/13/17 $500
04/12/17 $1,500
05/09/17 $1,000
06/01/17 $23,568.49
Total Payments: $26,568.49
Total Note Interest Earned: $1,568.49

In May of last year, the Probate Court requested further documentation on these transactions. It was also then that I learned that these types of loans would best be carried out with preclearance by the Probate Court itself. On learning of these issues, I promptly repaid the single outstanding loan in full and provided the Court with all the information requested.

It was my understanding at the time, in June of 2017, that these corrective steps had fully addressed the Court's concerns and settled the matter going forward.

But then, last Saturday, almost a full year later, I received an order from the Probate Court temporarily limiting my authority as conservator, and initiating a formal review of my handling of Ms. Johnnie's finances in regard to these loans, with a hearing scheduled for June 15. The Court now states it needs more information, but never contacted me to provide it.

Needless to say, given the fact that the loans significantly strengthened Ms. Johnnie's finances, I was and am surprised by this action. Nevertheless, I have directed my attorneys to assist with the Court's review in any way possible. In addition, I would respectfully ask the Court to release any and all account documents upon request by the press or the public.

In closing, I'd just like to say that I wish I had understood the need for preclearance on these transactions from the very beginning, and that I'm genuinely sorry for any questions this has raised. I have always been there to help Ms. Johnnie and always will be.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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