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Judge suspends Charleston mayor’s conservatorship of former neighbor's finances

Banking & Finance
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A Charleston County probate judge has suspended Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg from managing an elderly former neighbor’s finances after discovering he took out loans from her accounts without prior court approval.

In an order (.pdf) filed May 1, Judge Irvin Condon wrote that several loan transactions from the accounts of Johnnie Wineglass “show apparent self-dealing. The transactions show that John Tecklenburg made unsecured loans to himself and to his family members’ businesses.”

Tecklenburg was appointed conservator for Wineglass, a 92-year-old former neighbor of his, in 2008 after Wineglass had been a victim of a series of financial scams.

Condon ordered Tecklenburg to release all documents related to the loans, which total $80,000 over five years.

Tecklenburg did not respond to messages, but in a post on Thursday to his Facebook page, he detailed the loans and their repayment, which he wrote were at a 5% interest rate, along with a $25,000 investment in a 2011 tax sale that he said yielded $3,000 of income for Wineglass.

In his order, Condon said the court needs more information about the tax sale transaction.

“The attorney for John Tecklenburg ... has provided some information, but a comprehensive review of all transactions in the trust and the conservatorship and notice to the family is warranted, as this court has done in similar cases,” Condon wrote in his order.

According to the mayor’s post, the first loan, in August 2011, was for $20,000 to Sandy’s Open House of Charleston, a business owned by the mayor’s wife; it was repaid in 2013 with $2,024.66 paid in interest, Tecklenburg wrote.

The second loan, in December 2014, was a $35,000 loan, also to Sandy Tecklenburg’s business, which was then doing business as Meeting Street Gallery; it was repaid in 2015 with $1,463.00 in interest, the mayor wrote.

The final loan, for $25,000, was to Tecklenburg himself in February 2016, a month after he became mayor; he repaid that loan in June with $1,568.49 in interest.

Tecklenburg said he disclosed the loans and the repayments in his annual accounting reports with the court, and the court asked him for further documentation on the loans in May 2017. At that time, the mayor said in his statement, he was informed that the loans “would best be carried out with preclearance by the Probate Court,” after which he wrote that he “promptly repaid the single outstanding loan in full.”

Tecklenburg concluded the post by saying, “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.”

He said between the tax sale and the interest from the loans, he’s added $8,056.15 to Wineglass’ trust, about one-third of its current value.

Tecklenburg said during his time as conservator, neither he nor his wife, “have profited in any way from the many hours I’ve spent managing Ms. Johnnie’s finances without compensation.”

He said he engaged in the loans and the tax sale because it “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,” he said.

A 2009 letter appointing Tecklenburg as conservator says he may not “sell or dispose of any real or personal property” belonging to Wineglass without court approval, but it goes on to say the restriction does not apply to liquid assets, including savings accounts, checking accounts and investment accounts.

According to the court order, the only property in Wineglass’ trust was her previous residence, which was sold to provide for her medical care and nursing home.

Condon said he was not able to comment on the order, saying “State law prohibits a judge from publicly commenting on a pending case.”

A hearing is scheduled for June 15. Condon appointed accounting firm Thiem & McCutcheon as special conservator for Wineglass and appointed attorneys Catherine H. Kennedy and Ayesha T. Washington as special conservators to review Tecklenburg’s transactions.

“The court needs details and documentation for all transactions and use of the funds for the tax sale, for the sale of the residence in the trust, and for the administration of the trust by John Tecklenburg,” Condon wrote.

Jack O’Toole, spokesman for the city of Charleston, said he was unable to comment, saying the matter is personal and he can only speak to city business.

Reach Patrick Hoff at 843-849-3144.

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