SALEM — As a congressman's wife, Patrice Tierney has often been in the background and is little known by the public.
On the day she pleaded guilty to federal tax charges, those who know her well describe her as honest and loyal and say there is no way she would intentionally violate the law.
"I'm sure she was an innocent dupe of her brother," said her ex-husband, Alan Chew. "She would never in a million years do anything wrong like that. She likes being a congressman's wife. She would never do anything to hurt John."
Chew, an attorney who now lives in Hawaii, was married to Patrice for 25 years. The couple had three children before divorcing in 1995. Patrice's divorce lawyer was a young Salem man named John Tierney.
Tierney married Patrice in April of 1997, three months after he was sworn in as the congressman from the 6th District.
Although Chew was on the opposite side of Patrice and Tierney in divorce court, he said he has no hard feelings and nothing bad to say about either one.
"She was a great lady. She was a great wife and mother," Chew said. "While I don't agree with John's politics, he was a good lawyer and a good guy."
Chew said he's convinced that Patrice Tierney, who managed a $7 million bank account with proceeds from her brother Robert Eremian's illegal off-shore gambling operation, was only trying to help her family. Patrice Tierney, 59, has been caring for her ailing mother and serving as "de facto second mother" to her brother's three children, according to a statement from John Tierney.
Chew described Robert Eremian, who is a fugitive from justice, as "not a very nice guy."
"I hate to see her tainted this way," Chew said.
Patrice Tierney grew up in Boxford and graduated in 1969 from Masconomet Regional High School, where she was a cheerleader and National Honor Society student, according to classmates.
She has worked as a massage therapist, jewelry designer and self-employed bookkeeper, according to campaign finance records of donations she has made to John Tierney and Deval Patrick.
Stephanie Leduc, who has known Patrice Tierney since third grade, described her as a "wonderful person."
"She's been through an awful lot," Leduc said. "You couldn't possibly ask for a more loyal friend or family member. Everything Patrice has done she's doing to help her mom, her brother's children and her family."
Leduc said Patrice Tierney is "devastated" by the charges against her.
"I'm sure she feels betrayed," she said.