Crime & Courts

Suspended South Carolina Attorney Pleads Guilty In Federal Court

Peter Strauss awaits sentencing after admitting to transferring millions of dollars tied to massive Ponzi scheme …

According to a press release issued late last Friday (February 9, 2024) by the office of U.S. attorney Adair Ford Boroughs, prominent Lowcountry, South Carolina lawyer Peter J. Strauss has pleaded guilty in U.S. district court to transferring millions of dollars to prevent its seizure.

Strauss, 45, of Beaufort, S.C. was suspended by the S.C. supreme court (.pdf) two months ago. At the time of his suspension, he was rumored to be tied to a broader investigation of corruption in the Lowcountry – one potentially connected to the Murdaugh criminal enterprise.

Strauss’ case will be prosecuted by Emily Limehouse – whose team secured guilty pleas last year from convicted killer Alex Murdaugh and one of his accomplices, Cory Fleming, tied to their financial crimes. Limehouse and her team also successfully tried Russell Laffitte, another Murdaugh accomplice, in the fall of 2022.

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WHO IS PETER STRAUSS?

Strauss is the founder of his own law firm and chief executive officer of Strauss Global, both of which are based on Hilton Head Island, S.C. An expert in captive insurance management, he obtained his law degree in 2005 from the New England School of Law and subsequently joined Novit & Scarminach in Hilton Head as an associate attorney in June of 2006. That same year he married his now ex-wife, Mackenzie Strauss.

During his time working at Novit & Scarminach, Strauss first crossed paths with Fleming – and became entangled in one of the highest-profile (and still unsolved) missing persons case in Beaufort County history, the disappearance of 45-year-old attorney Elizabeth Calvert of Savannah, Georgia and her husband, 47-year-old businessman John Calvert of Atlanta.

The Calverts went missing on March 3, 2008, from Harbour Town in Sea Pines where The Yellow Jacket – their 40-foot yacht – was moored. The couple operated a local marina and owned more than 100 rental units on Hilton Head Island, where they were active in the local community and its upscale social scene.

Three days after the Calverts’ disappearance, their accountant – Dennis Gerwing – hired Fleming to represent him, telling an ex-girlfriend he was the last person to see the couple alive. It was later revealed that Gerwing — chief financial officer for The Club Group, a property management company — had embezzled millions of dollars from the Calverts and other clients.

At the time of their disappearance, the Calverts were in the process of extricating themselves from The Club Group – and from Gerwing. Indeed, Gerwing was said to have been “negotiating” this extrication at the March 3, 2008 meeting.

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On March 11, 2008 – eight days after the Calverts vanished into thin air – Gerwing committed suicide.

His body was discovered naked in a bathtub lined with a comforter and pillows. According to police, he bled to death after inflicting six slash wounds on his own neck and legs using a cheap, serrated steak knife. Two suicide notes were found at the scene – one on a bedsheet, the other on a piece of paper. In one of the notes, Gerwing is said to have acknowledged his role in fleecing the Calverts.

Strauss and Fleming were among those who discovered him.

In 2009 – around the time he was setting up his own law firm – Strauss got involved in the captive insurance business through his relationship with a business associate, John Ivsan, a tax attorney based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

According to documents filed in connection with the contentious divorce between Peter and Mackenzie Strauss, Ivsan set Strauss up as a “so-called expert legal authority on captive insurance by ghost-writing a book he could claim he wrote” while funding Strauss’ travels to various conventions to serve as an expert speaker on the complicated topic.

Strauss was building a successful business in Hilton Head and all was proceeding according to plan … until John Ivsan was indicted by the U.S. atttorney in Philadelphia on federal charges relating to a $200 million dollar tax fraud scheme in 2012.

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THE PLEA …

According to the news release from the U.S. attorney’s office, evidence obtained in its investigation revealed that Strauss knowingly transferred millions of dollars on behalf of Jeff and Paulette Carpoff – owners of DC Solar Solutions, Inc. and DC Solar Distribution, Inc. (“DC Solar”). These two California-based corporations designed, manufactured and leased renewable energy products – specializing predominantly in the production of mobile solar generators.

The Carpoffs have since been convicted and sentenced for their roles in “the biggest criminal fraud scheme in the history of the Eastern District of California,” according to a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) news release.

According to prosecutors, investors would purchase DC Solar generators “without ever taking possession of them, paying a percentage of the sales price and financing the balance with DC Solar.” The investors in turn “leased the (generators) back to DC Solar, which in turn purported to lease them to third parties.”

Portions of this lease revenue were intended for investors, but when the third-party leases failed to generate sufficient income, DC Solar “paid early investors with funds contributed by later investors, and (the company) became a Ponzi-like scheme.”

(Click to view)

Jeff and Paulette Carpoff (X)

“They sold solar generators that did not exist to investors, making it appear that solar generators existed in locations that they did not,” prosecutors alleged, accusing the Carpoffs of “creating false financial statements, and obtaining false lease contracts, among other efforts to conceal the fraud.”

On December 18, 2018, the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies executed numerous search warrants on the businesses associated with DC Solar – as well as the personal residences of Jeff and Paulette Carpoff. Several seizure warrants were also executed on bank accounts and assets associated with DC Solar and its principals.

Following the execution of search and seizure warrants related to an investigation into the Carpoffs’ company, Strauss received $11 million from the Carpoffs via transfers to his Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (IOLTA). The first $5 million was transferred into Strauss’ account on December 19, 2018 and distributed to various criminal defense attorneys and bankruptcy counsel and to Carpoffs’ captive insurance funds — which were managed by Strauss’ captive insurance management company. Strauss received an additional $3 million on December 28, 2018 which was utilized to pay for the Carpoffs’ captive insurance fund premiums.

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“(Strauss) knowingly transferred and aided and abetted the transfer of funds …”

-U.S. Department of Justice

The final wire transfer of $3 million to Strauss from the Carpoffs took place on January 19, 2019. These funds were co-mingled in Strauss’ IOLTA account and spent over the next few months. Strauss acknowledged that by the time the final installment was transferred in January of 2019, he “knowingly transferred and aided and abetted the transfer of funds from Carpoff to prevent and impair the government’s lawful authority to take such property into its custody and control.”

Strauss has agreed to pay $2.7 million in restitution to the government at or before his sentencing.

Jeff Carpoff pleaded guilty to money laundering and wire fraud and in November of 2021 was sentenced to thirty years in prison. Paulette Carpoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit an offense against the government and money laundering. She was sentenced to 11 years and three months in federal prison in June of 2022.

With his guilty plea, Strauss faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison as well as a fine of up to $250,000 in addition to the aforementioned restitution – as well as three years of supervised release. U.S. district court judge Richard M. Gergel accepted Strauss’ guilty plea and will sentence him after receiving and reviewing a report prepared by the U.S. Probation Office.

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MURDAUGH’S MISSING MILLIONS …

Alex Murdaugh takes a seat before a status conference to discuss an upcoming hearing on jury-tampering allegations against Colleton County clerk of court Becky Hill at the Richland County Judicial Center on Monday, Jan. 16, 2024, in Columbia, S.C. Gavin McIntyre/The Post and Courier/Pool

It’s unclear whether any of the investigations into Strauss might get us closer to finding Murdaugh’s missing millions. In discussing Murdaugh’s money – the known portion of which is currently being divvied up – those in Lowcountry legal and business circles have always quietly mentioned Strauss as the “go to” guy for attorneys looking to move money into offshore accounts. His name and the names of his companies appear throughout offshore data leak databases – and are set up using sophisticated structures.

In South Carolina alone, Strauss has over 400 companies registered in his name.

Aside from his obvious ties to at least one of Murdaugh’s co-conspirators, is there anything else connecting Strauss to Murdaugh and his missing millions?

In December of 2023, attorney/ podcaster Eric Bland hinted the suspended attorney “might hold some of the answers as to where Alex Murdaugh stashed his stolen money.” Bland has yet to elaborate on that assertion, however.

Clearly, though, Strauss’ name is on the tip of several tongues as the hunt for the Murdaugh money continues and with the recent guilty plea, speculation is likely to continue …

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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 jenn@fitsnews.com.

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2 comments

B B BROCKMAN Top fan February 13, 2024 at 9:56 am

It would seem to me, based on his track record, that Corey Fleming would be directly involved in the scheme as well, and Eric Bland’s belief that some, are all, of the missing Murdaugh Money could be found here. It will be interesting to see if the Feds include Fleming in the prosecution of this case. My guess would be the Fleming would sing like a Canary if he does know anything and it would save him from serving addition prison time………

Reply
B B BROCKMAN Top fan February 13, 2024 at 9:57 am

It would seem to me, based on his track record, that Corey Fleming would be directly involved in the scheme as well, and Eric Bland’s belief that some, are all, of the missing Murdaugh Money could be found here. It will be interesting to see if the Feds include Fleming in the prosecution of this case. My guess would be that Fleming would sing like a Canary if he does know anything and it would save him from serving addition prison time………

Reply

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