A divorce case involving Hilton Head Island Rep. Andy Patrick paints a picture of a politician who spent beyond his means, whose four children are on food stamps and Medicaid, and who now lives outside of his district in a fellow legislator's guest house.
Patrick, who recently announced he is running for state superintendent of education, also figures in a lawsuit that alleges he took for himself money that a relative intended to be used for a down payment on a home in Spanish Wells for Patrick and his wife, Amee. Andy Patrick also "cheated (a former business partner) out of monies due," ultimately having to settle for about $35,000 to avoid a lawsuit, according to an affidavit from Amee Patrick and interviews with two other people familiar with the situation.
Andy Patrick declined to be interviewed for this story. He said an interview might be possible on Thursday, after a hearing in Family Court. His lawyer, Norman D. Brannon, a fellow House of Representatives member from Spartanburg, said claims in Amee Patrick's affidavit are "crap;" that Andy Patrick can't live in a home in the district because Amee Patrick removed all the furnishings from it; and that he is "an incredibly caring and loving father."
The Patricks separated in May 2013. Complete documents on the divorce case are in a closed file in the Family Court clerk's office in Beaufort. Family Court Judge Peter Fuge said he sealed the file -- an unusual measure -- during a July 2013 hearing at the request of Patrick's lawyer and with the consent of a lawyer then representing Amee Patrick. Amee Patrick, who did not participate in the hearing, says she did not want the file sealed then and wants it open now.
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The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette filed a request last week to open the file. The newspapers seek to review documents because they could reflect on Patrick's service as a House member and on his qualifications to be South Carolina's next superintendent of education. The newspapers' lawyer has asked for a hearing next week on opening the file.
RULES NOT FOLLOWED
Court rules set out in detail the steps lawyers and judges must take before a file can be sealed, yet the procedures apparently weren't followed in the telephone hearing between Judge Fuge and the lawyers that resulted in closure of the case file.
Lawyers are supposed to submit a request to judges identifying "with specificity" the documents they want sealed, "state the reasons why sealing is necessary" and "satisfy the court that the balance of public and private interests favors sealing the documents," according to court rules.
Judges must then weigh those issues -- and "why the public interest ... is best served by sealing the documents." The judge's decision should "set forth with specificity the reasons" for sealing a case, the rules say.
Fuge's order, issued July 18, 2013, is brief and reveals nothing about his reasoning. It simply says: "This case file shall be sealed by the clerk of court and no one except her staff or a Family Court Judge shall open this file. If opened, it shall immediately be resealed."
In a recent interview, Fuge said he sealed the file because "both the lawyers consented to it -- there wasn't any argument about it."
Brannon, Patrick's lawyer, said he wanted the file sealed "so I could protect my client."
Lauren Martel, Amee Patrick's lawyer, says she and her client will support the request to open the file.
Amee Patrick's affidavit -- the term for a statement given under oath -- describes incidents that reflect on Andy Patrick's integrity. Andy Patrick's attorney emphatically dismisses Amee Patrick's credibility: "She hasn't spoken a word of truth yet," Brannon said.
However, a lifelong friend of Amee Patrick who is an employee of a federal law enforcement agency, disagrees: "I promise you, everything she says is true." The friend asked not to be named because of agency rules on communicating with the news media.
GETTING INTO BUSINESS
Patrick, 44, came to Hilton Head while working for the U.S. Secret Service, where he was an agent for 10 years, until 2007. His assignments included the protection detail for Vice President Dick Cheney and working on security in advance of travel by former presidents, vice presidents and their family members. He had previously worked as a security guard in Philadelphia and for the New York State Police.
The couple had a growing family -- two daughters and a son. They bought a five-bedroom, four-bathroom house in Hilton Head's Spanish Wells community for $850,000 in February 2006, around the same time the Secret Service moved Patrick to its field office in Augusta, Ga. The commute -- almost three hours -- didn't turn out to be a problem, according to Amee Patrick's affidavit.
"(Andy Patrick) said we would live on Hilton Head and he would rent a room in Augusta so that his address reflected his service location," Amee Patrick said in an affidavit. "The Agent in Charge did not know that he was working from home ... "
After leaving the Secret Service, Andy Patrick started his own security company, Advance Point Global (APG) in June 2007. The company's website says it handles various kinds of investigations, security services, audits, and consults on crisis management and emergency preparedness.
"International corporations, corporate attorneys, investment banks, private funds, insurance companies, and wealthy individuals who rely on tailor-made market intelligence all depend on (APG) to protect their businesses and assets," the site says of APG, whose address was Patrick's Spanish Wells home, according to state corporation records.
APG's site names only one client -- Beaufort County -- and describes in detail the work done for the county. Another section of the site directs users to "the following case study narratives," but none are posted.
The county paid APG $981,785 for audits over a period of two years and eight months, ending Dec. 17, 2010, according to records.
County Council, reacting to concerns about whether undocumented immigrants were filling scarce jobs, hired APG to randomly audit local businesses. APG checked to see if companies had documents showing that their employees were in the country legally and whether companies were paying the proper amount in business license fees.
The audits for the county were winding down at roughly the same time the Patricks began renting a new, bigger house in Spanish Wells while still owning their first house. The family -- now with two more children adopted from Russia -- moved into 37 Brams Point Road. The 4,500-square-foot house had five bedrooms, five full bathrooms and 2 half-bathrooms, according to real estate listings.
To help make mortgage payments they still owed on the first house, the Patricks rented it to close friends. At the same time, they were renting their new house under a lease-purchase agreement, according to Amee Patrick.
The couple needed financing to buy the new house. Amee Patrick's father, Mike Stefonick of Hilton Head, withdrew $170,000 from his retirement account and deposited it with a law firm, The McNair Firm, while the Patricks shopped for a mortgage, Stefonick said.
"The $170,000 was supposed to be for a down payment so they could get financing for the new house, but Andy didn't use the money for that," Stefonick said.
Stefonick alleges in a lawsuit that Robert M. Deeb, a lawyer at The McNair Firm, transferred the money to Andy Patrick. The $170,000 should not have gone to Andy Patrick because it was "for the sole purpose" of being used by the couple to get a mortgage on the 37 Brams Point Road house, according to the suit.
"The money wasn't for Andy's personal use," Stefonick said in an interview. "It was so they could buy the house, and Deeb knew that. (Andy) took it for himself."
Deeb, the defendant in the suit, referred questions to his lawyer, Robert E. Stepp of Columbia.
"We disagree with (Stefonick's) version of events," Stepp said. "This is something that clearly is playing out with the family and politically; we're sorry (Stefonick) has brought Bob Deeb into it. We disagree with Mr. Stefonick's version of events."
Stepp's answer to Stefonick's suit says Deeb was hired by Andy and Amee Patrick -- not by Stefonick -- to handle legal matters related to the house purchase and that Deeb was unaware of Stefonick's expectations about how the $170,000 was to be used. The Patricks told Deeb the deposit was their money, according to Stepp's filing, so it was deposited to the couple's credit in the law firm's account and subsequently transferred to Andy Patrick in October 2010.
In a filing of her own, Amee Patrick distances herself from her husband, saying dealings with the law firm over the money did not involve "the Patricks" as a couple -- as Deeb's lawyer had referred to them in his filing.
"Amee Patrick should never be referred to as 'the Patricks,'<2009>" her filing said. "She knew nothing about the transfer of the funds and never received any funds."
Stefonick said he and Andy Patrick worked out an agreement requiring gradual repayment of the money, at the rate of $2,000 a month. "He paid for only about a year," Stefonick said. "Then he reneged, so all I got was about $24,000."
The Patricks encountered another financial problem in the fall of 2011, when the couple to whom they had rented their first Spanish Wells home could no longer afford the payments and moved out. That meant the Patricks had no rental income to support mortgage payments owed on the first house -- at the same time they had to make rent payments on their second home.
Problems arose at Advance Point Global too, according to Amee Patrick's affidavit. Andy Patrick fell out with an associate, Lawrence P. McElynn, a former agent for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration who did work for APG.
" ... Andy ultimately cheated (McElynn) out of monies due and severed the partnership," Amee Patrick's affidavit states.
McElynn, now chief magistrate judge for Beaufort County, steadfastly refused to discuss the dispute; he is bound by a confidentiality agreement. But Amee Patrick states in her affidavit that Patrick had to pay McElynn $80,000 as compensation for completed assignments. The amount of the settlement may have been less -- Stefonick and another person with knowledge of the dispute say it was closer to $35,000.
The Patricks ended up losing their first Spanish Wells home in a short sale. The bank, Chase, forgave the amount they owed on their $860,000 first mortgage and sold the house for $475,000 to another couple. Andy Patrick also had a second mortgage of $75,000 on the house. He is still paying it off at a rate of "approximately $400 per month," according to Brannon, his lawyer.
When plans to buy the second home in Spanish Wells also fell through, the Patricks had to move, first to a rented house in Port Royal and then to one in Timbercrest, a development off Spanish Wells Road. They lived in Timbercrest for about two years, Amee Patrick said. The house they occupied was in foreclosure. Its former owner had suffered business reversals and moved back to Czechoslovakia. But he let the Patricks live in the house for free, according to an email he sent.
For one of the family's moves -- Amee Patrick says she can't remember which one -- Andy Patrick hired a moving company, Gottfried's Island Movers. She said Andy Patrick didn't pay the full bill. The owner of the moving company, Steve Gottfried, acknowledges coming up short.
"He didn't pay me the whole bill," Gottfried said. "He hassled me over it. He said we took too long doing the job. He was short maybe $400, $500 or $600."
Andy Patrick's financial straits appear extreme. A declaration he filed with the Family Court shows that his monthly expenses -- $3,489 -- far exceed his monthly income of $1,866 from his position as a legislator. The statement, filed Dec. 13, 2013, indicates he stopped earning money from Advance Point Global in April 2013.
Amee Patrick said her husband's deepening financial problems forced him to temporarily leave the House of Representatives early in 2012 to take a job providing security services for presidential candidate Rick Santorum. Patrick missed 11 of 19 roll call votes while with the Santorum campaign, according to records.
"Andy took the job with Santorum and left his job with the House of Representatives because he badly needed the money," said Amee Patrick, adding that he earned $109,000 for the work.
Amee Patrick says she receives $75 a week from her husband. She has documents showing the family is on Medicaid and food stamps.
Andy Patrick's affidavit says he has been generous: "I have continued to provide a cell phone for the plaintiff, I have provided gasoline for her automobile, I have given her money upon request and provided for all the children's needs."
Andy Patrick would like the Timbercrest house to be his home on Hilton Head -- it's in the district he represents -- but his lawyer said it's impossible to live there because Amee Patrick "took every piece of furniture out of the house." Foreclosure proceedings on the house could also prove problematic. The house is scheduled to be auctioned in the coming months, Amee Patrick said.
Since November, Andy Patrick has stayed in a small guest house at the home of fellow House member Weston Newton of Bluffton. Newton said Patrick is there "intermittently."
"He's not the first fellow I've let use it," Newton said. "Sometimes folks have sought a place to crash, and if they want to tell me why they need it, they can. I didn't ask him."