One day, Sewell said, McCullough mentioned someone was selling the car of his dreams - a mid-'70s two-seater Corvette, she thinks. And then later, he mentioned something about having a hard time getting a loan.
Sewell thought she could help. She had some money from settling a lawsuit against the state in her husband's death. Her husband was stabbed to death by a man with a long history of mental illness.
"I thought, you know, I have this money sitting here that is bookmarked for years down the road. I said, 'I don't mind lending it to you if you don't mind signing a contract and paying me back a little extra interest than I was getting from the bank. You win, I win.' "
She trusted McCullough; he was a cop, after all. But just to keep it legit, she bought a no-frills contract from Staples. The agreement, signed by both on March 25, 2006, was that he'd pay $235 a month over 72 months at an interest rate of 4 percent. She'd charge a nominal $25 late fee. It was better than anything he'd get at a bank, and she felt good helping out a fellow officer.
Except over the past eight years, McCullough only sporadically paid about $2,000, an amount McCullough confirmed when I spoke to him.
Sewell said that for a long time, she was too ashamed to tell anyone, including her police officer brothers.
"Do you think I want to admit to this?" she said.
She'd send McCullough emails, most of which he ignored until she threatened to take him to court.
In a May 14, 2009, email, McCullough wrote: "I have been very neglectful in my responsibility to pay you in a timely manner, I am truly sorry that the delay has been this long, I am also sorry if I hurt your feelings in anyway what you did for me was kind thoughtful and generous of you. I hope you can please hold off on legal action, I am mailing a check tomorrow and I will continue to fulfill my obligation to you on a monthly basis. I know excuses don't mean anything so I will not go into why there has been such a delay, but I will say I will be making payments as agreed starting tomorrow."
That was the last time she heard from him, Sewell said. And then she became overwhelmed with a slew of medical issues, including breast cancer in 2010.
"In the grand scheme of things, Pat McCullough was so insignificant," Sewell said. "I wasn't even sure I'd live."
If she could afford it, she said, she'd probably just let it go. Lesson learned for being a fool, she said. But it's a lesson she just can't afford with her mounting medical bills and those of her 91-year-old mother, who is in an assisted-living home that costs a small fortune.
"I'm hurting," she said, crying. "Too much responsibility. I miss my husband. You get through on the good days, it's the bad days . . . Damn it, I need somebody to help me."
Even after she made the tortured decision to go public, Sewell was torn. She debated whether she should wait until after National Police Week, which started yesterday. She still held out hope that McCullough might respond to the discreet prodding she'd asked a few law-enforcement friends to do on her behalf. She was still a police officer's wife.
"These guys have a hard enough time in the public eye," she said. "I don't want all police officers to suffer because one of them didn't do the right thing."
Imagine that, still loyal to the brotherhood even though one of the brothers did her wrong.
When McCullough and I spoke, he said he wanted to settle the debt "in a peaceful way." He said he planned to pay her back; he'd just lost Sewell's contact information.
Sewell has had the same address and phone number since 1987. There's also the Internet.
After McCullough and I spoke, his attorney, Joe Marrone, called. Marrone said he didn't understand why a small personal debt was a story. (In what world is 15 grand small?) He said she'd get paid if the story didn't run.
I have a better idea. National Police Week recognizes the service and sacrifice of U.S. law enforcement and pays tribute to those who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
What better way to pay tribute to the ultimate sacrifice of Sgt. Sewell than to make sure his widow is paid in full, which by my math adds up to about $19,000 with interest and late fees.
Happy National Police Week.
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