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Friday, March 23 News

Bankwell's CEO ordered to pay nearly $400K in debt

New Canaan's most famous banking executive is facing her own financial woes after she was hit with a series of civil lawsuits.

Peyton Patterson, CEO and president of the New Canaan-based Bankwell Financial Group, has been ordered to pay nearly $400,000 to two private country clubs and a credit card company after the three successfully sued her for outstanding debt, according to the state Department of Justice website.

American Express filed a suit against Patterson July 2013 for more than $350,000; Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club, of Branford, sued her for more than $10,000 in October; and Orange's Race Brook Country Club sued her for nearly $27,000 in September, according to court records.

In each of the three lawsuits, the New Canaan resident was ordered to make weekly payments of $35. With all orders combined, including attorney's fees and interest, she owes $392,754, court records show.

Patterson was not available for comment, but in an emailed statement from Diane Knetzger, Bankwell's senior vice president and director of marketing, Patterson said:

"I take full responsibility for resolving them and recognize that as the CEO of a public company, I am held to a very high standard. I accept that responsibility and appreciate the great support of this community and our board of directors as I continue to work hard every day to earn the trust, confidence and respect of all of our employees, friends and stakeholders."

Knetzger said in an email that the outstanding bills from the two clubs were from corporate memberships that were maintained by Patterson's previous employer, NewAlliance Bank, and that they should have expired after the company was sold to First Niagara in 2011. Knetzger said she believes there was "an oversight" during the merger.

"Ms. Patterson was unaware of any outstanding charges as her employment ceased with that company in 2011," Knetzger wrote. "Ms. Patterson has not visited either club in roughly three years and thus would not have accrued any personal charges. She was only recently informed that these outstanding charges were not resolved and she is working to ensure the matter is addressed."

A First Niagara spokesman did not return calls for comment.

With a reputation as a game changer, Patterson joined Bankwell as a strategic officer in spring 2012. She had just engineered the $1.5 billion sale of New Haven-based NewAlliance Bank and months later became Bankwell's CEO and president.

Under Patterson's leadership over the last year and a half, Bankwell has acquired The Wilton Bank, launched new wealth and cash management services and, most recently, gone public. Bankwell Financial Group, which opened 12 years ago, went public May 15 with a $48.6 million initial public offering. The price per share has remained steady since then and just over $1 short of the $18 initial offering, according to NASDAQ.

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The company has two banks each in New Canaan and Fairfield, one in Stamford, one in Wilton, as well as a loan-processing facility in Bridgeport.

As CEO of NewAlliance Bank, Patterson was named the "Second Most Powerful Woman in Banking" by U.S. Banker magazine in 2008.

As for the American Express charges, Knetzger said Patterson has not used the card in many years and the debt "relates to a private family matter."

"Ms. Patterson has taken decisive steps to have this matter resolved in a timely manner," Knetzger wrote.

Patterson also was sued by the town of Madison, where she owns a house and failed to pay $22,804 in property taxes, including interest and fees, according to Alma Carroll, Madison's tax collector.

Those taxes were due in July 2012 and January and July 2013, according to Carroll. The lawsuit was withdrawn in September, however, after Patterson paid the delinquent taxes in full.

The tax collector noted that Patterson has a new outstanding debt of $411 with the town and another approximate $8,000 would be due in July.

Patterson bought the Madison property with her ex-husband in 2002. According to Curbed.com, the Colonial house was rehabilitated in the 1950s by famous architect Philip Johnson, who also designed New Canaan's Glass House. The 6-acre property is on sale for $1,950,000, according to Zillow.com.

On top of the lawsuits, the Hartford Business Journal reported June 16 that Patterson has not paid North Haven-based Granite Communications for a $1,008 phone system installed in her New Canaan home in January 2013. Knetzger said Tuesday that the bank chief was not aware of the outstanding payment as the vendor was not contracted directly through her, but that Patterson already has paid her bill with the company. As of Tuesday afternoon, however, Granite Communications had not received a payment or been contacted by Patterson, according to Gregg Haughton, the company's president. Haughton also said the company billed Patterson directly.

Bankwell's board of directors chairman, Blake S. Drexler, did not return a call for comment, but he sent a statement through Knetzger on behalf of the board.

"We are very comfortable with the circumstances and we're confident she's going to resolve them," he said. "It's a set of circumstances that could happen to any of us. (Patterson is) an outstanding CEO and has done great things for the bank and our customers."

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson

Nelson Oliveira|Education/general assignment reporter