A San Antonio-area high school’s Chris Pettit problem – San Antonio Express-News

At the end of 2016, two representatives of Antonian College Preparatory High School paid a visit to Christopher “Chris” Pettit at his San Antonio law office.

The pair — then-Principal Tim Petersen and alum Charles Montemayor — detailed a capital campaign to fund improvements at the Catholic school in hopes Pettit would contribute.

While they didn’t solicit Pettit to give money during the visit, he later committed to help fund the campaign’s first phase — the conversion of a building on the Castle Hills campus to a library, learning center and six classrooms.

The school subsequently named the building the Pettit Family Center for Academic Excellence. A plaque in the lobby reflects that the building was dedicated in honor of Pettit’s parents. Pettit and his three brothers graduated from Antonian.

Pettit’s pledge — $500,000, according to a person familiar with it but who did not want to be identified — is drawing scrutiny in the former San Antonio attorney’s bankruptcy case as he faces allegations that he stole millions of dollars from former clients. Pettit reported about $40.5 million in assets and $112.2 million in liabilities for himself and his now-defunct law firm in the massive Chapter 11 case, but so far has been unwilling or unable to explain where his client’s money went.

An amended bankruptcy filing last month showed Pettit contributed $225,000 to Antonian from 2019 to 2021. The pledge was spread over multiple years, and it’s not clear how much, if any, remains unpaid.

Under bankruptcy law, a trustee can claw back assets on behalf of a bankruptcy estate if they were fraudulently transferred within two years before the filing of the case. State law expands that time to four years.

Mary Elizabeth Heard, a San Antonio lawyer who represents longtime Pettit clients who lost $2 million, said she hopes Chapter 11 trustee Eric Terry will void Pettit’s “fraudulent transfers so that the money will be available” to pay his creditors — including her clients.

“Although the bankruptcy code provides that some charitable contributions are exempt from being clawed back into the bankruptcy estate, I do not believe those conditions exist in Mr. Pettit’s case as it relates to the $225,000 contribution,” Heard said in an email.

“Here, we do not know if Chris Pettit has made any legitimate income in the years leading up to the bankruptcy filings,” she added. “It is certainly possible that he used his clients’ money to make charitable contributions in his name.”

San Antonio attorney Martin Seidler, also representing creditors in the case, agreed that the donation warrants review.

“If he gives something away and he’s insolvent, that’s a constructive fraud on the creditors,” Seidler said.

Terry, his lawyers and forensic accountants have been investigating various transactions made by Pettit. Terry didn’t respond to a request for comment, so it couldn’t be determined if the donation to Antonian is among them. His team has identified at least 149 bank accounts Pettit or his firm maintained and now wants the funds and account information for many of them turned over.

The Pettit Family Center for Academic Excellence at Antonian College Preparatory High School opened in 2017.

The Pettit Family Center for Academic Excellence at Antonian College Preparatory High School opened in 2017.

The archdiocese

Antonian Principal John Mein said he was not allowed to comment on the situation and directed questions to the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Antonian is an archdiocesan school.

“The archdiocese is obviously aware of what is occurring with Mr. Pettit,” spokesman Jordan McMorrough said. “As far as the name on the building … we’re looking at the situation on our end and we’re in the process of determining the next steps.”

McMorrough wouldn’t say whether that includes removing the Pettit name. The amount of Pettit’s pledge was confidential, he said.

It’s not clear if excising the name from the building would open the school or archdiocese to legal trouble. But leaving the name creates a public relations headache for them given Pettit has admitted he “misappropriated and dissipated” money from a trust account in at least one of about a dozen lawsuits filed against him and his firm.

“That is a quandary,” said Montemayor, a 1984 Antonian graduate who visited with Pettit about the capital campaign. “I thought the same thing as soon as the stories started coming out.”

The bankruptcy put on hold the litigation that was pending against Pettit and his firm. The allegations in those complaints have triggered an FBI investigation.

Henry “Hank” Valdespino, president of the Antonian School Council, said there have been no discussions about Pettit by the council.

“It’s not set up the way that the school could make those decisions on their own,” he said about decisions regarding the building name. “We have to run all that through the archdiocese.”

Former San Antonio attorney Christopher Pettit is facing allegations that he stole tens of millions of dollars from his clients.

Former San Antonio attorney Christopher Pettit is facing allegations that he stole tens of millions of dollars from his clients.

Jerry Lara, San Antonio Express-News / Staff photographer

‘Happy to join in’

Pettit, 55, graduated from Antonian in 1985. He followed in the footsteps of his brothers Jonathan, who graduated in 1978, and Martin, a 1982 graduate. Their youngest brother, Charles, graduated in 1991.

With the recent death of Charles, who had worked at Petitt’s law firm until it was shuttered about two months ago, all three of Pettit’s brothers are deceased.

Work on the building named for Pettit’s parents started in 2016. The cost was estimated at $1.5 million, a filing with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation shows.

In his speech at the 2017 ribbon-cutting and blessing for the building, Pettit recalled the visit from Petersen and Montemayor to discuss the capital campaign.

Principal Petersen “was mentioning the fact that you were looking for people to donate and help do a wonderful tribute to this school,” Pettit told the audience during the ceremony, which was recorded and posted on YouTube. “I was happy to join in and do that.”

He added how “tremendously fulfilling” it was for him to answer legal questions posed by former teachers who helped mold him as a student.

Montemayor, who has been an associate judge in Bexar County Children’s Court, recalled the visit with Pettit near the end of 2016.

“I believed he was, at the time, a person of much resource or potential,” Montemayor said. “And Mr. Petersen just asked me to go update him on Antonian — just to tell him what’s going on at the school. And that was it.”

Montemayor was a year ahead of Pettit at Antonian but both graduated from St. Mary’s University School of Law in 1991. Montemayor’s wife also attended Antonian and before that, like Pettit, St. Gregory the Great Catholic School, for grades kindergarten through eighth.

“He was always courteous and very nice,” Montemayor said of Pettit. I know what’s happened to him. It hit me out of left field, to be honest with you. I don’t know the details of everything. But I have to admit, I’m shocked by it all.”

Pettit’s bankruptcy lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.


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