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Crime & Courts

Probate War: Battle for South Carolina Estate Files Continues

Questions abound …

When Florence, South Carolina attorney Gary Crawford died by suicide on March 9, 2023, he left behind what his successors called an “active, large, and diverse law practice with many clients and many open and ongoing files.” Crawford had a sole practice where his wife, Rebecca Crawford, had served as his primary paralegal since the firm opened in 1980.

Earlier this year, Columbia, S.C.-based attorney Tucker Player hit some roadblocks in his effort to obtain files on behalf of several clients who are concerned Crawford may have mishandled their estates. However, Player had no reason to believe he wouldn’t receive his client’s files after submitting an emergency petition earlier this year.

Player is currently representing seven clients who believe Crawford acted questionably in handling the estates of their loved ones. And as we previously reported (here and here), those questionable estate decisions have thrust the entire Palmetto State probate system under the microscope.

One of Player’s clients, Craig Hanna, believes South Carolina’s court system has cheated him and his mother, Georgia “Jo” Hanna, out of their rightful share of the $20 million estate of his father, Carlos M. Hanna – who founded Coastal Sanitary Supply in Florence in 1969. Specifically, he believes there has been a conspiracy to perpetrate fraud involving judges, attorneys and his own brother, Brad Hanna.

Craig Hanna requested his father’s file from Crawford’s office for months – to no avail. Crawford’s wife even refused a subpoena from a process server. Not knowing who was taking over Gary Crawford’s cases – and why he couldn’t get a copy of them for his clients – Hanna’s goal was to ensure the files were protected and a licensed attorney in good standing was assigned to take possession and control over them.

On Wednesday, June 7, 2023, Walter B. Todd Jr. – an attorney representing Crawford’s firm – filed a motion attempting to explain the delay. Despite it being inferred multiple times that the files would be handed over to the representatives of the estates in question, affidavits from Rebecca Crawford in the response indicated that the files had been destroyed as the files were “closed out many years ago.” This has left representatives of multiple multi-million dollar estates in the dark.

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There appears to be mixed messaging from the various attorneys assisting Rebecca Crawford in handling her late husband’s legal matters. Player noted he received an email on May 25, 2023 from attorney Jeff Payne which indicated he was helping Rebecca Crawford comply with Player’s subpoena for the Carlos Hanna Estate. In the email, Payne stated that the law firm “will comply with the subpoena” and that he could “get you (Tucker) what they have.”

At some point between May 25, 2023 and June 7, 2023, though, it was determined the files had been destroyed.

According to the S.C. Bar Association’s ethics advisory opinion 02-14, “a client file is the property of the client, under Rule 1.15 it is appropriate for the lawyer to retain records of the property for a minimum of six years after the end of the representation. File contents should not be disposed of until such time as it is reasonable to believe that their disposal will not prejudice or potentially prejudice the rights of the client.”

Additionally, Rebecca Crawford’s affidavit to the S.C. supreme court claiming the Hanna estate case was “closed many years ago” appears to be false. According to Player, “the probate file was briefly closed in 2013 but was immediately reopened in 2014.”

“It was never closed again,” Player said in a recent court filing. “It remains open and Craig Hanna is the personal representative.

“It is impossible for either of them to claim they were unaware of the ongoing litigation,” Player continued. “Rule 1.15 specifically prohibits a lawyer from destroying any file in which there are pending or threatened legal proceedings known to the lawyer in control of the file.”

In her affidavit, Rebecca Crawford stated she was not aware Craig Hanna ever actually requested the file. However, Craig Hanna recorded his call to Crawford’s law office requesting the file. Player noted while it was possible no one informed Rebecca Crawford about this request, “such failure of communication reaffirms the need for an independent receiver to take over the files.”

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Player believes the estates of both Carlos Hanna and Georgia Hanna are beset with fraud and illegal actions. Among these actions is the attempted sale of Georgia Hanna’s home for $225,000.00 without notice to any party – or any evidence presented as to the value of the home. In fact, the original order from Darlington County probate judge Marvin Lawson actually stated the sale authorization was being issued “without notice.”

When Player filed a motion with the supreme court to vacate the sale, Lawson vacated the order, recused himself from handling Georgia Hanna’s case, recused the conservator he had assigned to the case, and attempted to send the matter back to Florence County. Shortly after that, the presiding judge in Georgetown recused herself from the Hanna case and sent it back for reassignment due to a conflict.

Talk about a hot potato, right?

At this time, there is currently no judge for either probate matter, and no conservator or guardian for Georgia Hanna.

According to Player, “this must be rectified immediately due to recent discoveries related to Carlos Hanna and Georgia Hanna.”

Among those discoveries? The sale of additional property in Chesterfield County belonging to Georgia Hanna by her son, Brad Hanna — who was serving as the conservator before being replaced in February 2022 by Darlington County Treasurer Jeffrey Robinson. The property, which was co-owned by Georgia Hanna and her siblings, was sold for $1.4 million. The sale was allegedly hidden from the court when Brad Hanna omitted it from the inventory and appraisal he filed under oath in his role as conservator.

When reviewing the deed transfer, Player discovered it was signed by “Bradley Hanna as Conservator to Georgia Hanna” – who received one-fifth of the $1.4 million paid for the property.

In 2018, Munford Scott – who was the probate judge overseeing the case at the time – issued an order requiring any sale of real estate belonging to Georgia Hanna to obtain prior approval by the court. Yet the Chesterfield County property was sold without so much as an application – nor were any of the interested parties served with any notice of the sale, according to Player. Even more questionably, Player claimed no proceeds from the sale were ever disclosed by Brad Hanna and the property was sold at a severely depressed price. In fact, Player noted there hasn’t been a report from any conservator relating to Georgia Hanna since 2021.

The witness on Brad Hanna’s signature transferring the deed on behalf of Georgia Hanna was none other than Rebecca Crawford. It was notarized by her assistant Hanna B. Wagner. According to Player, these actions constitute aiding a breach of fiduciary duty, if not a violation of the South Carolina criminal code.

While the estate files of many of Gary Crawford’s clients have allegedly been destroyed, it doesn’t appear to be slowing down the investigation into the questionable actions being found within the probate courts in South Carolina. Player has sent a letter on behalf of Georgia Hanna to the parties involved in the sale of the Chesterfield property notifying them that the sale is void and he says he is still trying to determine where the proceeds from that sale went.

As we continue digging into those allegations – and other issues we are finding within the South Carolina probate court system – I would remind everyone reading this article that FITSNews has an open microphone policy which encourages any individuals named in our reports to address our audience directly.

Stay tuned for much, much more on this saga …

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THE RESPONSE

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Jenn Wood (Provided)

Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at [email protected].

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1 comment

Flossip June 10, 2023 at 10:16 am

Half of Florence County (and beyond) may have been fleeced and the response from our state is zzzzzzzzz.

Reply

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