Connie Mack preaches penny-pinching on campaign trail, but has past of debt and liens

U.S. Rep. Connie Mack has made penny-pinching debt-reduction central to his U.S. Senate campaign, but privately he has struggled at times with borrowing and paying his own obligations, court records show.

Mack sometimes appeared to spend more than he earned, had property liens filed against him, overdrew his bank account and didn't have enough money to pay his federal income taxes after his 2004 congressional election, according to court records from Fort Myers to Jacksonville to Fort Lauderdale.

His finances aside, the records also show that Mack in his youth got into four confrontations — from an arrest at a nightclub to a bar brawl with a pro baseball player. Later, while in Congress, his estranged wife accused him of not living in his Fort Myers district and of using his influence to strong-arm her during their divorce.

When asked this week if candidates' private lives should mirror the public policies they advocate, Mack suggested it was fair game.

"What's important is that we're all human; everything that makes us human we can be held to account for," Mack, 45, said. "I don't think that's different for me or anybody else."

As for the brawls, a spokesman later said that Mack was "young and foolish" and that the financial troubles and allegations from his ex-wife are fairly typical of "an unfortunate, difficult divorce."

This week, Mack rapped Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson for having a "do as I say not as I do" attitude because he opposes tax loopholes but has used an agricultural exemption to avoid higher property taxes in Brevard County.

Mack has proposed the "Mack Penny Plan" to trim a cent of every federal dollar spent and advocated for a balanced budget constitutional amendment two weeks ago at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Said Mack: "You can't spend more than you take in."

But he's done just that in the past.

Mack estimated he spent about $2,257.91 more monthly than he netted as a member of Congress, according to his average monthly expenditure report made in his divorce case in November 2005. Excluding the incidentals, his household costs accounted for 86 percent of his net monthly income. His annual congressional salary in 2005 was $162,100.

The case also shows that Mack missed an on-time $1,700 support payment to his estranged wife, and his bank account showed he had been overspending due to two overdraft fees totaling $175.

Mack's biggest expense: a $675,000 home in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va. Mack used a generous jumbo loan and credit line from the former Countrywide Mortgage to close on the deal less than 20 days after his election. He took out a $17,000 line of credit on the home with another lender — effectively borrowing nearly 98 percent of the purchase price of the house.

Mack technically wasn't in Congress when he closed on the house. He had just resigned his Fort Lauderdale seat in the Florida House, where he served from 2000 to 2003.

Less than four years after he bought the Virginia home, Mack sold it for $75,000 less than he paid for it. Mack had tried to sell the house for $825,000, according to a Naples Daily News article in August 2006.

About the time he purchased the Virginia home, Mack couldn't easily pay his federal income taxes. He had to borrow the money from his father and namesake, former Sen.-turned-lobbyist Connie Mack III, according to a July 2006 Marital Settlement Agreement. Mack repaid the loan.

As part of the divorce settlement, Mack insisted he keep his "Gold Presidential Rolex" watch. He also was given both the Alexandria house and the Tamarind Cay Court condominium in his Fort Myers district.

Mack, who had listed the condo fees as part of his monthly expenses, failed to pay the Tamarind Cay Recreation Association's special-assessment and maintenance fees, leading the group to file a $2,160 lien that was satisfied almost four months later, in October 2006.

Mack's estranged wife at the time, Ann McGillicuddy, described the condo as a "small political stake in the sand" where the family spent "very little time." She said it was purchased "solely to assist his political career" — so that it made it appear he lived in the district. At the time, Mack did not have a property tax homestead exemption on the Fort Myers condo, indicating it wasn't his primary residence.

"Connie Mack was born in Fort Myers and lives in Fort Myers, having sold his home in Fort Lauderdale. Connie's only Florida home is in Fort Myers," his spokesman, David James, said. "To paraphrase George Bush, when Connie was young and foolish he was young and foolish, but what the people of southwest Florida got in a congressman is someone who fights for his beliefs: less government, less taxes and more freedom."

Ann McGillicuddy also argued in court papers that Mack tried to use a legal maneuver to require her and their two small children to essentially live out of the small, seldom-used condominium so that he could force her to settle the case more quickly. She said Mack "covertly" filed for divorce in Lee County, while she was vacationing with the kids in Fort Lauderdale — away from their Virginia home.

"The Husband had recently threatened the Wife that he will direct police and other authority figures to ensure that she and the minor children remain in Lee County, Florida during this proceeding," her counsel wrote in numerous briefs. "This type of coercion and duress certainly resonates with what the Wife has already identified as a 'strategic' dissolution by the Husband."

Mack denied the claims.

Later, Mack's own divorce attorney, Carolyn Swift, filed a $30,000 charging lien with the court to ensure payment in September 2006. Swift said it was done in an abundance of caution. "There was no concern with Connie — other than a concern with any client when they owe $30,000," she said, noting he ultimately paid his bill.

The following summer, the Fort Lauderdale Yacht Club sued Mack for an unpaid $4,000 bill. Mack and his wife had acknowledged the existence of the debt in their settlement agreement the previous year.

The yacht club's attorney, Jerome Schechter, said the issue was "a misunderstanding." He said the bills were going to the wrong address. A process server had attempted to serve a summons at Mack's Fort Myers condominium — where Mack's wife said they didn't really live.

The liens and lawsuits aren't the only legal blemishes on Mack.

In October 1989, when he was 21, Mack was arrested by an offduty Duval County sheriff's deputy at a Jacksonville nightclub called Bananas. Asked to remove his hat, Mack refused, hurling four-letter insults at club workers and calling the officer a "rent-a-cop," an employee testified. When Mack refused to leave, he was busted for resisting arrest without violence.

"You don't know who I am," Mack, whose father had been elected to the U.S. Senate the year before, reportedly told the deputy.

In a deposition, bar manager Brian Held described Mack's threats as "all of the stuff you see on Matlock," referring to the popular 1980s television show.

Mack, calling the arrest a misunderstanding, pleaded no contest. The judge withheld adjudication — meaning he has no criminal record — and the arrest report was sealed.

Two years before, Mack traded blows with another motorist waiting at a drawbridge while on his way to a wedding. Then, in 1988, Mack's car windows were smashed by a man wielding a baseball bat.

The incidents came to light after a February 1992 brawl with then-professional baseball player Ron Gant at an Atlanta bar called Calico Jack's. A server testified that Mack, who had been heavily drinking beer and Jagermeister shots all night, took the first swing at Gant. Mack testified he couldn't remember how much beer he drank, but said he had only one liquor shot — of tequila.

Gant claims a drunken Mack repeatedly bumped into him, precipitating a fight. Mack claims Gant attacked him for no reason.

During the melee, Gant head-locked Mack. Mack testified that he couldn't breathe. So he starting striking and grabbing the ballplayer's crotch. The club's bouncers got involved, and Mack broke his ankle. He sued Gant, who was held liable. But a jury awarded no damages.

"I've never seen a case like this go to trial," said Bill Allred, who helped represent Gant. Allred said he recalled Mack was "some kid with an overprivileged upbringing and a chip on his shoulder. But that was years ago. He could have grown up."

Gant's legal team sought to portray Mack as a troublemaking lightweight, noting he went to military school and that it took him more than seven years to get an advertising degree that, ultimately, he parlayed into a consultancy to promote Hooters, the Florida restaurant chain known for its scantily clad servers.

A Palm Beach Post article prior to Mack's legislative election in 2000 noted that Mack was an infrequent voter.

But in the decade he has spent in public office, supporters and friends say he has grown more serious and studious. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said she was so impressed by Mack that she chose him to sit on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

"I needed someone in the Western Hemisphere who really understood the threat of the Castro regime, the threat of Chavez, of Ortega, Morales, Correa," she said, ticking off the names of Latin American dictators and leftist leaders.

"Congressman Connie Mack knows the difference between allies and enemies," she said.

Three years after his congressional election, Mack married Mary Bono, the widow and successor of California Rep. Sonny Bono, the 1970s pop singer. Friends say they're madly in love.

Before their marriage, Mack had listed one asset on his congressional financial disclosure forms: the Virginia home that he ultimately sold at a loss. After his marriage, Mack listed 89 financial assets that brought annual income ranging from $117,180 to more than $1 million, about 90 percent of which derives from song royalties and other financial instruments in the Bono Collection Trust.

About that time, Mack's problems with liens, debts and unpaid bills disappeared from the courts.

Connie Mack preaches penny-pinching on campaign trail, but has past of debt and liens 02/17/12 [Last modified: Sunday, February 19, 2012 10:22am]

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