Funny business in Florence County … and possibly beyond.
Dana Hanna chuckled in 2017 when her mother-in-law, Georgia “Jo” Hanna, asked her for $2.00 for a hot dog. Jo told Dana her debit card wasn’t working, and Dana assumed she was using the wrong card as she was known to do sometimes. Dana wasn’t concerned because Jo had substantial assets and things like that happened from time to time. She told her husband, Craig Hanna, who hopped in his car and drove to Jo’s house to ease her mind.
Craig didn’t realize at the time that what he as about to uncover would initiate a years-long legal battle to protect his mother – a battle that continues to this day.
Jo had been married to Carlos M. Hanna for 44 years when he died on December 14, 2010 — the same year the estate tax briefly expired. Carlos and Jo had two sons — Brad and Craig (Dana’s husband) — and a successful business in Florence County. Carlos founded Coastal Sanitary Supply in Florence in 1969. The business supplied half of South Carolina with janitorial supplies and sanitation equipment – including public entities such as jails, courts and school districts.
In 2004, Carlos underwent a successful heart transplant – after which he recovered and returned to running his business. On December 14, 2010, Carlos took his medicines and started seizing, vomiting, and having diarrhea. Jo called her son, Craig, and informed him he needed to come over immediately as something was wrong.
When Craig arrived, his father died in his arms.
Carlos was a planner. He left behind detailed wills and trusts created by Gary Crawford, a Florence-based estate planning attorney. Crawford died by suicide on March 19, 2023 – shooting himself in the head in his car, which was parked outside of his law office. We’ll share more of Crawford’s story in a moment, but first let’s get back to the Hannas.
Per Carlos Hanna’s instructions, Crawford prepared two documents …
- A last will and testament which, at the time of his death, decreed that everything he owned would go to his wife – Georgia “Jo” Hanna. It listed her as the personal representative of his estate.
- “Trust B,” which decreed that if Jo were unable to run the family business in the same capacity as Carlos did when he was alive, it would be placed into a trust to be managed by their sons, Craig and Bradley. This trust would pay Jo’s living expenses through her sons – and with Jo receiving Carlos’ salary. (Craig says his father knew that Jo – who spent forty years as a nurse – had no interest in running the business, so the trust was obviously the document to be followed).
The Hanna assets were significant. In addition to Coastal Sanitary Supply, the estate included a Florence residence, a vacation home, commercial properties, farm, timber, boats, vehicles, and commercial leases which brought in rental income. Carlos also had stocks, bonds, and life insurance. Dana wasn’t concerned on her drive over to Jo’s house, but when she arrived and pulled up her mother-in-law’s accounts, she quickly realized something was wrong.
Dana informed her husband, Craig, and when he began researching further he discovered his brother, Brad, had allegedly taken Jo Hanna to meet with Crawford – and had him transfer all of her assets to him for $5.00.
All of this happened without any notice to Craig …
In 2018, without Craig knowing, Jo Hanna was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Brad Hanna petitioned the Florence County probate court have her declared as incapacitated. That petition was approved by Florence County probate judge, J. Munford Scott. A sheriff’s deputy served Jo Hanna with a notice of the hearing to declare her incapacitated. In an effort to protect her, Craig petitioned to obtain guardianship of his mother to ensure her health and safety were being monitored as his brother and his wife only saw her a couple times a year.
When this petition was approved, he gained access to Jo Hanna’s medical records. Upon reviewing those records, he discovered a 2017 document which revealed that Brad’s wife – Cassie Powers Hanna, a pharmacy doctor – had taken Jo in for a neuropsychology evaluation that same year. The evaluation indicated Cassie had concerns about Jo’s cognitive skills going as far back as 2012 – prior to her signing her assets over to Brad for $5.00.
While Craig was relieved he could now ensure his mother’s health and well-being, the guardianship didn’t give him any money for this purpose. At same time Craig petitioned to be his mother’s guardian, he also requested a third-party conservator be appointed to oversee what remained of his mother’s finances. The judge immediately granted Craig’s guardianship request, but held back on the decision regarding the conservatorship for few months.
|Florence County, S.C. court house (Will Folks/ FITSNews)|
Shortly before he retired, judge Scott quietly appointed Bradley Hanna to serve as the conservator for Jo Hanna. This decision placed one brother in charge of Jo’s health and safety – and the other in charge of her finances.
Upon learning his father’s probate estate was still open from 2010, Craig sought to be appointed as a successor to the personal representative of Carlos Hanna’s estate. That was done so he could attempt to close the estate file which had remained open. On November 16, 2022, his petition to be appointed in this role was approved by Florence County probate judge Jesse Cartrette.
Craig went to the Florence County probate court and pulled his father’s file. It soon became readily apparent why he wasn’t receiving any information concerning the estate. The address Crawford’s office listed for him on the “notification to heirs and devisees” was incorrect. When he dug deeper into this address, he realized it didn’t even exist. For years every notification regarding his father’s estate had been sent to an address that never existed — leaving him unaware that everything in the estate was being fraudulently transferred, allegedly, by Craig’s brother and his attorney, Gary Crawford.
On February 7, 2023 – four-and-a-half months ago – a letter was submitted by judge Cartrette indicating his prior approval of Craig as successor had been in error due to a conflict of interest. Cartrette recused himself and recommended the case be transferred out of Florence County owing to the conflict. Jo Hanna’s guardianship and conservatorship case had already been transferred to Darlington County probate court under judge Marvin Lawson and Carlos’ estate was transferred by order of the S.C. Administrative Law Court (SCALC) and S.C. chief justice Donald Beatty to Georgetown County probate court.
Lawson made some interesting moves in Jo’s case – appointing Darlington County treasurer Jeff Robinson to serve as her conservator and S.C. state representative Cody Mitchell to serve as her guardian. This removed her son and strongest advocate, Craig Hanna, from his role. It also erected significant roadblocks for Craig if he hoped to continue advocating for her and protecting her assets moving forward.
As all of this was unfolding, Craig contacted Gary Crawford’s law office to obtain the files for his father’s estate. When he learned of Crawford’s death by suicide, he grew even more concerned. Crawford’s law firm changed its online status to “permanently closed,” and his office staff told Craig they would have to get back to him regarding his request.
He has yet to receive a return call – or any of the files he requested.
Back to Crawford: Every licensed attorney in South Carolina is required by law to have a clear plan of succession in place detailing what is to happen in the event of their death or disability. Successor attorneys identified on each lawyer’s annual license fee statement. Gary Crawford was no exception – listing Brown Johnson of Florence as his successor. According to a notice on Facebook, though, Johnson’s entire law firm resigned on May 18, 2023 – this past Thursday – further complicating things for former clients of Gary Crawford, many of whom are still trying to obtain their files from his office.
Craig Hanna recently hired a new attorney – Tucker Player of Columbia, S.C. Last week, Player issued subpoenas to Gary Crawford’s office on behalf of a number of clients attempting to obtain their case files. According to Player, his process server was surprised when Crawford’s wife, Becky Crawford – his longtime office manager and paralegal – refused service.
Last week, Player filed a motion in Darlington County probate court to vacate an order issued by judge Lawson allowing for the sale of Jo Hanna’s primary residence. This motion detailed some aspects of what many believe to be a broader scheme to defraud multiple victims. Jo’s primary residence, a stately brick home in Florence on a beautiful tree-lined street in a prestigious neighborhood, was approved for sale by judge Lawson. According to Player’s motion, though, Lawson “issued an unconstitutional and illegal order providing for the sale of the most valuable tangible asset of (Jo) Hanna without providing any notice or opportunity to be heard to the parties in this action.”
Attached to Player’s motion was a letter from Charles Ipock – an attorney with the Haynesworth Sinkler Boyd law firm – requesting judge Lawson’s order be issued “without notice, as allowed under the South Carolina Probate Court.”
Wait … what? Such lack of notification is permitted under state law?
When Player examined the statutes cited in the order, he realized one did not exist and the other “specifically prohibits” such notices. According to Player, without required notice to the parties in this case the court had no legal right to issue its order.
Player noted Lawson’s order was issued on April 18, 2023 – just hours after Craig Hanna appeared at a judicial reform press conference at the S.C. State House with solicitor David Pascoe. While at the press conference, Hanna saw his former attorney – S.C. senator Gerald Malloy – and his mother’s guardian, representative Cody Mitchell, numerous times in passing. Neither made any attempt to speak with him or acknowledge him, according to Craig, which he thought was bizarre.
According to Player, “the motion to sell Georgia Hanna’s real estate, and its accompanying correspondence requesting the petition be granted without notifying any other party, was mailed to this court on the exact same day. Unless the United States Mail Service has developed instantaneous transporters, the motion could not have reached this Court until April 19, 2023. This court received the motion, considered the motion, drafted an order granting the motion, and filed the Order within 24 hours of receipt.”
Lawson’s order allowed for the sale of Jo Hanna’s home with zero notice to the parties with interests in that real estate. Player said in his quarter century of practicing law, he has never seen an order issued in this manner as even “first year law students are aware of the Due Process clause of the United States Constitution and its fundamental requirement of notice.”
|Home of Jo Hanna. (Provided).|
Player further noted there is nothing in the file to justify the sales price of the home other than “an approved but an unsworn hearsay statement from some realtor.”
“There is no appraisal, no repair estimate, no pictures, no testimony, nothing that is required of an acting fiduciary to dispose of property owned by another.”
The sale of this property leaves Jo Hanna with only one asset remaining in her name – her cemetery plot. To date, over $20 million worth of assets have reportedly been transferred from her estate.
Among the questions the Hannas and their attorneys are hoping to answer: Why are motions and orders being issued with an ostensibly concerted effort to avoid all parties knowing about the sale of these properties? Who is benefiting from these property transfers? And was the sudden death by suicide of Gary Crawford tied to any of these actions?
And perhaps the biggest question of them all: Are there other cases like this one?
This news outlet has been told to expect a motion early next week which will answer many of these questions – and likely rock the already scandal-scarred South Carolina legal community to its core.
In the meantime, I would remind everyone reading this article that
FITSNews has an open microphone policy – one which encourages any
individuals named in our reports to address our audience directly. (Click to continue reading)
Full Article & Source:
What’s Going On In South Carolina’s Probate Courts?
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