Patterson Trial Testimony
EDINBURG – Former Comfort House Board Chairman Timothy “Tim” Brown dropped a verbal grenade inside the 370th state District Court last Friday: There have always been (spending) policies and procedures in place at the Comfort House, he said, with regard to how much money the executive administrator can spend without gaining approval from at least one board member.
All through this marathon trial (Week 6 begins today), the jury had been led to believe by the four attorneys representing accused murderess Monica Melissa (Palacios) Patterson that because there were no spending (rules) policies and procedures in place, how in the world could she have possibly known that using Comfort House money on personal expenses was a big no-no?
How could she have possibly known that as the Comfort House (McAllen-based hospice) executive director, her board of directors would have snuffed out the very idea that she use hospice money to pay for a short vacation to Las Vegas?
That “vacay,” by the way, included taking with her, her married lover – former San Juan City Commissioner Heriberto “Eddie” Suarez -- along with her mother-in-law (who mysteriously returned to her native Cuba two days after Patterson’s arrest Aug. 26, 2015). According to court testimony from Suarez, Patterson never let her mother-in-law know that he was sitting a few aisles behind the family duo. At Caesar’s Palace, Suarez booked a room alone, courtesy of Comfort House, as did Patterson and her mother-in-law.
If policies and procedures were not in place at the Comfort House during her tenure, Patterson’s defense team has argued, how in the world was the 50-year-old murder defendant supposed to know that her board wouldn’t have approved of her spending approximately $20,000-plus to host her son’s high school graduation party in the late spring of 2015; or spending away (the two-count felony accusation is theft and misapplication of a fiduciary) approximately $200k from the nonprofit?
Shopping trips to Dillard’s, courtesy of Comfort House donations from private donors and federal funds (CDBG) and cities and churches, how could Patterson possibly have known those expenditures were outside the norm if policies and procedures did not exist for her to read when she was hired?
Turns out, according to Tim Brown’s court testimony Friday, there were indeed policies and procedures in place at the Comfort House with regard to what its executive administrator could spend, going as far back as he could remember.
Brown’s testimony appeared damning to Patterson, even though her defense team did its best, with Attorney “Rick” Salinas leading the way, to try and discredit it.
The former board chairman’s history goes way back, Brown said Friday, to the early 1990s when his dad was a board member, and the founder of the hospice, Sister Marian Strohmeyer, was still dishing out love and compassion for the dying and the family grieving for them.
Tim Brown actually served on the Comfort House board of directors in his own right during two terms. His first term, he said, was a great experience. The hospice ran like a well-oiled machine. The board was kept abreast of the state of the financials during every early-morning monthly meeting, and the executive administrators – both Sister Strohmeyer and her successor – were no-nonsense. Above all else, the care of the dying came first. The state of the financials were never in doubt, said Brown.
According to Tim Brown, however, things soon began to change in early 2014, shortly after the previous executive administrator had to step down from her position due to health-related problems. The board went in search of a replacement. Patterson wasn’t the board’s first choice, but when its first choice declined the board’s job offer, its second choice for the job, Monica Melissa (Palacios) Patterson, was given the nod.
At first, said Brown, he had no problem with Patterson; but things began to change when he became concerned that the board of directors was not being kept abreast of the state of the hospice financials. How much money was the hospice spending? How much money was in its bank accounts? How much money was it taking into its coffers?
According to Brown, the hospice board had no way of knowing because during each board meeting, Patterson kept coming up with excuses as to why she couldn’t produce bank statements as the year of 2014 progressed. One of those excuses, said Brown, was that she couldn’t get them a copy of the financials because, thanks to her attention to details, she discovered that the QuickBooks version being used by the Comfort House was a “pirated version.” Another excuse: QuickBooks wasn’t working.
Other court testimony delivered by Tim Brown on Friday (Oct. 27) included:
• Patterson discovered by perusing past board minutes that she had not been the board’s first choice for executive director. She wasn’t happy when she learned of it. Why was I not chosen first, she wanted to know. Clearly, said Brown, she didn’t appear pleased.
• When the accused murderess was hired, the Comfort House board of directors did give her clear-cut instructions as to what her job duties were to entail. They included: running the hospice’s day-to-day operations; finding ways to bring in more donations; writing grants; hosting fundraisers; giving families tours of the hospice; overseeing the intake of new patients; and managing hospice financials and payroll.
• Any check expenditures made by Patterson on behalf of the Comfort House that exceeded $1,000 must also include the signature of at least one board member. This policy had been in place long before Patterson was hired, said Brown. Many of the Comfort House checks presented during court testimony that paid for things such as the high school grad party thrown by Patterson using hospice money included only her signature.
• The board of directors never authorized her to open a bank account at Falcon International Bank.
• Brown said the board was never made aware of Patterson having a debit card in the name of the Comfort House at least while he was on the board (he resigned during the first quarter of 2015).
• Before Patterson came on board, the woman handling the hospice financials would have an up-to-date financial report available at every board meeting. The board would know exactly how much money had been spent on each budget line item as the fiscal year progressed. Approximately, six weeks after Patterson’s arrival, the hospice employee handling the finances resigned because she testified earlier in the trial that she felt threatened by Patterson.
• Before the woman previously in charge of the hospice finances resigned, she came to Tim Brown with her concerns, but he said that he was unable to help her.
• According to Tim Brown, during the approximate 15 months he served on the Comfort House board with Patterson serving as the hospice’s executive administrator, he never saw hospice financials. Patterson had one excuse after another, he said, but she would always say that she was in the process of getting QuickBooks fixed.
• During previous court testimony, a woman who helped the hospice work up payroll on a contractual basis, said that QuickBooks was working the entire time she was there.
• QuickBooks has crashed, Brown testified Friday. That was one of Patterson’s common refrains when board members were asking to see them.
• During Patterson’s tenure, as testified to during previous court testimony, approximately half the board was replaced with new members. Out with the old; in with the new; many of whom were personally brought to the board by the murder defendant herself.
• One day, Brown said he received an anonymous letter that suggested something was amiss with regard to Patterson and her dealings with “Marty” Knell, who was murdered in late January 2015. Knell’s wife, “Penny,” had died at the Comfort House in October 2014. After his wife’s death, Knell eventually turned over his entire estate, durable power of attorney, payee on death (bank accounts), beneficiary of his Last Will and Testament to Patterson. According to Brown, another board member received the anonymous letter as well.
• After receiving the anonymous letter, Brown said he confronted Patterson about it, and told her he was going to contact APS (Adult Protective Services). She told him that there was nothing about which to be concerned. Everything had been done legally; everything was fine. No problemo.
• According to Brown, APS never even bothered to take down his report. Later, however, a woman who worked for the hospice that oversaw the care of Knell’s wife as she lay dying, which was the same hospice that provided bereavement counseling to “Marty” Knell after her death, alerted APS that Knell might be a victim of exploitation. That was when APS first took notice of “Marty” Knell and Melissa Patterson.
• After the accused murderess found out that Brown had contacted APS, she raised the issue at every Comfort House board meeting. Prior to contacting APS, said Brown, he also had a meeting with the hospice’s executive board, which included Sandra Vecchio and (Judge) Dori Contreras. He said he told them that the appropriate course of action would be to speak about (the letter) to Patterson, but in the end, that discussion was left up to him.
• From that point on, Brown said, he was made to “feel unwelcome” at every board meeting. Patterson would often say: Tim Brown is the one who brought APS down on us. Tim Brown is the reason that the Comfort House is under investigation.
• One day, the accused murderess, in the company of Comfort House employee (and her personal go-for) Michael Merinos, showed up at Brown’s place of business un-invited. She wanted to know if he had contacted APS as Tim Brown the private citizen, or Tim Brown the Comfort House Board Member.
• Brown said told Patterson that it didn’t really matter because all he wanted, was to make sure that everything was done “above board.”
• At the meeting at his personal place of business, Brown said that he told Patterson, “You make it sound like you’re asking me to quit the board.” Said Patterson, according to Brown: “Would you?” At that point, said Brown, he asked Patterson and Merinos to leave his office.
• When the rest of the board found out about the anonymous letter and that Brown had contacted APS, some board members were quiet about it, he said, while some board members seemed irritated that he had called the state agency.
• If Tim Brown had known that Monica Melissa (Palacios) Patterson was using Comfort House money to fly she and her “lover” to Vegas, asked assistant DA Joseph Orendain, what would he have done as board chairman? “I would have started proceedings to terminate her,” he said.
• Yes, said Brown, Patterson let the Comfort House board know that “Marty” Knell had passed away; but she didn’t let the board know that she had driven to his house with a DNR (Do-not-resuscitate) Order in hand, demanding that efforts then underway to bring him back to life cease immediately.
• Involved in the funeral business his entire life, is it true that people who have just lost loved ones are in a very vulnerable position? Orendain asked Brown before “passing” him to the Patterson’s defense team. “Yes,” said Brown. Are they vulnerable to exploitation? asked Orendain. “Yes,” said Brown.
During his cross-examination of Tim Brown, Patterson’s lead Defense Attorney “Rick” Salinas never addressed the anonymous letter; never addressed the hospice policy regarding the $1,000 expenditure cap sans one board member’s signature on the check; never addressed the fact that Patterson opened a Falcon Bank account without board approval; never addressed why she never provided the board of directors with any financials, etc.
Instead, what Salinas did question Brown about was CDBG monies. Did he know that if a nonprofit has access to CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) monies (federal dollars), there must be a “secretary” on board the staff?
“No,” said Brown.
“Do you know what CDBG stands for?” asked Salinas.
“Yes,” said Brown.
When “Marty” Knell basically handed over his entire estate to Melissa Patterson, Tim Brown really had no way of knowing what was going through his (Knell’s) head, did he, asked Salinas. In fact, said the attorney, Tim Brown really had a very limited understanding of the relationship that his client had with “Marty” Knell.
Brown agreed; he didn’t have a complete picture of that relationship.
Salinas then segued into how Comfort House board members were required to bring in donations to the hospice. Brown said there was no requirement in place, but that was the general idea of being a board member – bring in some donors.
“Is it safe to say that you and (Melissa Patterson) started off on the wrong foot?” Salinas asked.
“No,” said Brown.
(Did Patterson’s) employment at Comfort House cause problems because of (board politics)? asked Salinas.
“No,” said Brown, looking as if he wasn’t quite sure of where Salinas was headed.
Salinas asked Brown was it not true that at some point in time, he had apologized to Patterson.
“No,” said Brown; at least not about calling the APS after he received the anonymous letter alleging exploitation on the part of his client. Brown said he did apologize, but it was for something else entirely. He had made a remark directed toward Patterson that she found derogatory, he said. If Salinas would like to hear what that remark was, he would testify to it.
If it’s derogatory, said Salinas, no.
After Tim Brown was “passed” back to assistant DA Joseph Orendain, however, he got the chance to testify as to the exact apology he offered Patterson, just to ease the tension on the board, he said.
“I apologized to her for having said that I wanted to make sure everything was ABOVE BOARD (with regard to her claims to the Knell Estate),” Brown said.
As made mention of by Orendain out of the presence of the jury Friday, referencing a text sent by Patterson to “Eddie” Suarez, Palacios was apparently pleased with Brown’s apology, taking it to heart.
“Brown apologized in front of the board,” read Patterson’s text to Suarez, “and he’s s*cking my d*ck.”