A Hamilton County grand jury has indicted a Chattanooga business owner and golf professional, accusing him of bilking his ailing half sister out of more than $650,000.
An 18-count indictment handed down earlier this month accuses George Zeboim "Zeb" Patten Jr. of misappropriating funds that belonged to his half sister, Terry Alice Patten, who suffers from dementia, according to the indictment.
"Just because someone has been indicted doesn't mean they are guilty," said Johnny Houston, Zeb Patten's attorney. "We were under the impression this issue had been handled in (bankruptcy court) and that he had answered everyone's questions to their satisfaction. The indictment was really unexpected."
Patten, 45, now faces 14 counts of theft, one count of fraud and three counts of forgery. All the crimes are felonies. Hamilton County Jail records show sheriff's deputies booked him on the charges and released him on Friday.
Zeb Patten declined to comment Monday on the criminal case and deferred to Houston.
Zeb Patten operates Golf Center Chattanooga, and the indictment claims that some or all of the money diverted from his half sister's accounts was used to prop up the business as well as his own personal finances.
Patten had his half sister's power of attorney that stipulated that he was to oversee her affairs, but he was never supposed to take more than $5,000 or 5 percent of her assets in a year's time for his services, according to the indictment. Those court documents did not say how much Terry Patten's assets totaled.
In 2009, Zeb Patten filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to reorganize his personal and business finances. He listed both his debts and assets between $1 million and $10 million, according to bankruptcy court documents.
In November 2010, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court trustee pushed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which calls for liquidation of some assets to pay down debts, partly because of the issues dealing with Terry Patten's finances, wrote Trustee Richard Clippard in a court filing.
"The debtor could be required to repay up to $650,000 to the estate of Terry Patten," Clippard wrote.
The indictment cites 15 occasions from 2007 to 2009 in which Patten dipped into his half sister's retirement account, checking account or credit card for unauthorized withdrawals.
Prosecutors also allege he forged three checks and sold her Jaguar sedan and pocketed the proceeds. He also is accused of taking out a $236,000 line of credit on her home and keeping most of the money for himself.
"Within four days after obtaining the line of credit the defendant, Zeb Patten, had withdrawn the full amount of the loan and had converted a large portion of the loan to his own use and benefit," the indictment states.
Most of the withdrawals were from Terry Patten's IRA, and the money either went directly to him or to his business, according to the indictment.
In March 2010, Chattanooga police arrested and charged Patten with domestic assault against his daughter, but those charges later were dropped, according to a General Sessions Court affidavit. The cases are apparently unrelated.
Patten is set to appear before Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman on April 1.
Contact staff writer Adam Crisp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6323. Follow him on line: www.facebook.com/crispreporter and www.twitter.com/adam_crisp.