Charleston Probate Judge Faces Purchasing Card Scrutiny


Charleston County probate court judge Irvin Condon is facing scrutiny from county council members after an audit conducted by county accountants revealed inappropriate use of purchasing cards (p-cards) by probate court officials.

Charleston’s probate court processes 2,000 estates, marries 5,000 couples and commits 2,000 individuals on an annual basis. Condon – first elected Charleston County’s probate judge in 1994 – established drug and veteran’s courts in the county, which are models of “treatment courts” studied by other attorneys throughout the country.

Despite these accomplishments, Condon’s recent dust-up with county council is not the first time his office stands accused of inappropriate behavior. For example, Condon’s court failed to act in a timely manner when former Charleston mayor John Tecklenberg made himself multiple loans from the estate of his then-92 year old former-neighbor, Johnnie Wineglass.

Wineglass, who was incapacitated with Alzheimer’s disease at the time of the incident, first entrusted Tecklenberg with her financial affairs in 2008. During his 2016 mayoral campaign Tecklenberg made himself a $25,000 loan from her account without the expressed approval of the court and without properly notifying other interested parties as is required per S.C. Code of Laws § 62-3-713.

While Tecklenburg documented the loan and repaid it with interest, the fact it was improperly issued (and that Condon didn’t stop him) drew the ire of law enforcement investigators and members of the public at the time. Condon went on to implement a conservatorship management system in an attempt to prevent further abuses going forward.

Condon has also faced scrutiny from this news outlet for hiring his niece, Theresa Padron, as a customer service representative in 2017. Pardon went on to become an estate clerk the following year.

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Condon’s latest troubles originate from an audit requested by county council chairman Herbert Sass after county employees brought purchasing irregularities to the attention of council. The audit (.pdf) revealed “numerous p-card purchases that were violations of county policies and procedures” including the purchase of a gift card for the office March Madness pool winner, a Chewbacca mask shipped to a personal address and more than $6,000 of food from restaurants and stores without the requisite pre-approval or documentation.

While Sass wasn’t present as council reviewed the results of the audit, councilwoman Jenny Costa Honeycutt expressed her displeasure with the purchases.

“I’ll be honest these situations embarrass me, they’re an embarrassment to government, it looks like we can’t control our expenditures,” she said.

“The probate judge does a fantastic job in his office,” Costa continued, but “these expenditures did not meet our guidelines, and these guidelines must be followed by everybody.”

Condon appeared before the council of his on volition last week to explain the purchases. Condon told council members “all the items were budgeted, and they are all spent on operations for our probate court.”

(Click to View)

Probate Court Judge Irv Condon Appears before the Charleston County CouncilProbate Court Judge Irv Condon Appears before the Charleston County Council
Irv Condon appears before the Charleston County Council

“I didn’t realize that somebody could work forty years for Charleston County and I can’t buy them a $130 lunch for 20 people at Costco,” Condon said. “Come on – What are you telling the employees of Charleston County? We’re not here for you?”

Despite Condon contending that the money was spent for the benefit of Charleston County taxpayers, he fired his former financial head in the fall of 2023.

Condon told the council he “fired the financial officer that I had for many many years.”

Condon called this former employee a “longtime friend” whom he “thought that person was protecting my backside.”

Once it became clear to Condon that his employee wasn’t complying with county protocol, however, he fired the individual and requested the county audit the office.

Councilman C. Brantley Moody told Condon “I don’t think anybody’s questioning whether some of these charges may be viable for the citizens of Charleston County, but what I think you’re not seeing yet is you can’t ask for forgiveness every time.”

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“You can’t go out and do it and go well I’ll just figure it out later, it’s just got to be followed,” Moody said.

Condon’s office, per the South Carolina Constitution, is independently operated by it’s elected head. While Condon’s budget is set by the council and he must abide by county purchasing policies, the county administrator has no control over his day to day operations, meaning the responsibility to hire managers capable of ensuring compliance with policy falls solely on Condon’s shoulders.

P-cards have time and time again proven to be magnets for inappropriate purchases in South Carolina. FITSNews asked Condon how he would prevent this problem from continuing at his office.

“We’re going to reduce the number of P-cards from seven to either one or zero,” he said.

Condon told FITSNews the office may have to retain a card to purchase from vendors who require credit cards, but that all purchases will henceforth be cleared through the county finance office before disbursements are made. Condon also offered to reimburse the county.

Council members tasked county staff with proposing an appropriate amount to be returned, as well as whether to return Condon’s p-card access.

Count on FITSNews to continue to monitor South Carolina’s courts, elected officials and how your tax dollars are being spent.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Via: Travis Bell)

Dylan Nolan is the director of special projects at FITSNews. He graduated from the Darla Moore school of business in 2021 with an accounting degree. Got a tip or story idea for Dylan? Email him here. You can also engage him socially @DNolan2000.

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