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When Terry Alice Patten began showing signs of early onset dementia, she turned to her brother, George "Zeb" Patten Jr., to run her financial affairs.
Zeb Patten signed a power-of-attorney in 2007 to manage his sister's estate. Just three years before, he had inherited $2 million when his father died.
He was to take no more than $5,000 a year of Terry Patten's money for his own use.
Two years later he had withdrawn more than $419,000 from her accounts, taken out a $236,000 line of credit on her paid-for home on Signal Mountain and sold her Jaguar car.
On Tuesday he pleaded guilty to three counts of theft over $10,000 in criminal court. Under a plea agreement, he will be allowed to remain free on probation as long as he pays $100,000 in restitution to the estate of his now-deceased sister in $1,660 monthly payments beginning in February.
If he completes the court's requirements, the criminal charges can be erased from his record.
Zeb Patten declined to comment after the Tuesday hearing.
But Terry Patten's only son, Bo Patten, said he got some belated relief from the 15 minutes in front of Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern.
"Today was about two things -- today was about my mother and today was about a criminal admitting his guilt," Bo Patten said.
He found out about his uncle's spending when bank officers began calling about foreclosing on her home.
That news shocked him because he knew his mother had paid cash for the house years before.
Shortly afterward, Alexian Brothers, where his ailing mother was being cared for in a dementia-specific unit, reported that monthly bills were not being paid.
A court-appointed third-party conservator, local attorney Linda Norwood, was appointed to oversee the estate at that point.
At about the same time in 2009, Zeb Patten filed for bankruptcy, citing "breathing room" from creditors for his business, Z Golf Custom Fittings.
In a creditors meeting, he said he was owed $200,000 to $250,000 by his sister, Terry Patten, and he had taken that money to cover past loans he had made to her.
He also said at that time that $700,000 to $800,000 went into work on a Minnekahda Road house, a Riverview-area property he had bought and remodeled.
"No transaction went to my personal life," he said in a bankruptcy meeting.
But he said in a February meeting this year that he was actually owed $400,000 by Terry Patten and the rest was her investment in the Minnekahda house, from which she would have received a portion of the profits upon its sale, according to court documents.
He also claimed in this year's meeting that none of Terry Patten's money went into the Minnekhada house, conflicting with his first statements.
The house sold in the early stages of the bankruptcy for $600,000.
For that, bankruptcy attorneys have filed a "false oaths" claim against him. He is scheduled for trial on Nov. 5.
Lying while under deposition in bankruptcy court is a civil and criminal offense.
If Zeb Patten loses, he won't get any relief for the nearly $2 million he's claiming in the bankruptcy and instead will owe that amount, which includes money to Terry Patten's estate, to creditors.
Bo Patten said much of the work regarding the estate and bankruptcy was being dealt with by lawyers, and he knew little of the details.
As for his uncle, they haven't talked in years, and that's not likely to change.
"I've moved on with my life," Bo Patten said. "I have no desire to try and reconcile any sort of relationship."
Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6347.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...
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