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Indeed it would seem an odd arrangement, but Elizabeth du Fresne says her ex-husband is simply wrong about the nature of it. "It's interesting that Bill thought that way," she muses. "I never knew that. He interconnected two things that certainly in my mind were never connected." The monthly $500 payments she made to Tornillo were merely a gift from her, she says, and not connected to the insurance contract. "Not a penny of that money has gone to Pat Tornillo," she stresses. "I handled those checks myself."
Here's how Elizabeth du Fresne remembers events: In 1974 she won a court battle for the right to provide a legal-services insurance program for teachers. The next step was persuading the school board to help pay for it. So she set up a pilot project in which her law firm provided the service to teachers from about 1976 to 1980. "I spent in excess of $400,000 of my law firm's money to demonstrate the need because the school board didn't get it," she says. "People need to use lawyers and they don't use them because they are afraid of how much it will cost."
Then in 1980 Tornillo and United Teachers of Dade negotiated the addition of a prepaid legal-services plan to the school district's à la carte menu of benefits for 1981. As du Fresne remembers it, a request for proposals was sent out and five companies applied, including her firm. Du Fresne says the board was leaning toward giving her the contract because she already had been providing the service, but she was uncertain she wanted to continue doing it. "The closer we got to the vote, the less I wanted to do this," she recounts. "I looked at the RFPs of each company and Midwest hands-down looked like the best of the products. So I stand up before the school board and say I am withdrawing my own application and I'm going to serve as a consultant to whoever ends up doing this. I recommended to the board Midwest."
The board voted for Midwest. "From that time on I served as a consultant to Midwest and later to ARAG, who bought them," she says. And the $500 per month du Fresne says she gave Tornillo for "about twenty years"? After reading the relevant portions of the deposition, du Fresne says her ex-husband is "just absolutely wrong" in connecting her gift to Tornillo with her paycheck from the insurance company (for whom she still consults, although she retired from Steel Hector & Davis in 2000 to fight cancer). "I did it out of love and affection," she maintains, noting that Tornillo's salary wasn't always so lucrative. "Pat was my kid's godfather and a dear friend to me. When I had $500, I sent $500. And when I didn't have it, I haven't sent it. This was my present to Tornillo. I was thrilled to do it." The affection clearly goes both ways. Last year UTD proposed naming one of its planned charter schools after her.
From his home in New Mexico, William du Fresne refuses to be drawn into ancient debates. It's been too long to remember the details, he claims. "Probably everything in that deposition is as close to the truth as you're going to get," he says. "I recall that she told me at one time that she was giving money to Tornillo." He notes that "most everybody at the union knew Pat was living pretty well."
The FBI issued its standard no comment regarding the ongoing investigation into Tornillo's finances. Neither Tornillo nor his attorney returned phone messages seeking comment for this story.