CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) — A judge says Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg wrongfully took money from an elderly woman he cares for, but the mayor says he used the money for the woman's benefit, and didn't realize he did anything wrong.
As a result, Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon has limited all of Mayor Tecklenburg's powers as a conservator for Ms. Johnnie Wineglass pending a review of financial transactions executed by Tecklenburg, according to an order issued May 1.
Condon made the decision after discovering financial records showing Tecklenburg took out three loans totaling $80,000 from Ms. Wineglass' accounts.
Judge Condon also takes issue with Tecklenburg using $25,000 of Wineglass' money to purchase a foreclosed upon property in a 2011 tax sale, the order shows.
Condon says Tecklenburg was required to seek court approval before making these financial decisions, and called the mayor's actions a case of "apparent self-dealing."
"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, and that is exactly what I have done.
Wineglass, 92, is a retired former school teacher and community volunteer. Tecklenburg was appointed conservator for Wineglass in 2008, according to Charleston County Probate Court records.
They mayor said he accepted the appointment as conservator because Wineglass is a close family friend, and she had been the victim of financial scams.
According to Tecklenburg, he began exploring avenues by which to boost Wineglass' income after being appointed her conservator, as it was apparent to him her savings weren't sufficient to provide for her care.
"Ms. Johnnie's large medical and nursing home expenses were draining her account in a way that put her future care in doubt," Mayor Tecklenburg explained on his Facebook page. "As a result, I started to look for ways to increase Ms. Johnnie's income without putting her small nest egg at risk."
Tecklenburg apparently paid back all three loans with interest, totaling more than $85,000, and also paid back with interest ($28,000) the money from the tax sale after flipping the property, according to both Condon's order and Tecklenburg.
The interest on the loans and the proceeds of the tax sale added more than $8,000 to Wineglass' savings, according to Tecklenburg. The mayor says that sum amounts to about one-third of the current total value of Wineglass' assets.
The mayor says he thought his status as Wineglass' conservator gave him the authority to take out the loans, but Condon argues state law doesn't allow such use without court approval in cases where there's an apparent conflict of interest, or when the money is paid to the conservator's family.
Two of the loans were paid to Mayor Tecklenburg's wife's business, Sandy's Open House of Charleston, on behalf of Meeting Street Gallery. A third loan was paid to Mayor Tecklenburg personally.
Tecklenburg says he took out the loans from Wineglass' funds instead of from banks when he and his wife were already considering getting loans for themselves or their businesses.
"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," Tecklenburg said.
Condon has appointed special conservators to investigate the transactions and to opine on Tecklenburg’s fitness to continue as Wineglass' conservator. Condon is also calling on Wineglass' family members to write the court with their opinion of Tecklenburg.
One woman, who describes herself as Wineglass' goddaughter, already has done so.
"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," said Leila Potts-Campbell in a letter to Condon. "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."
Tecklenburg says he is surprised the court has taken this action because the loans strengthened Wineglass' finances; however, the mayor says he's cooperating fully with the court to resolve the case.