South Carolina couple pleads guilty in $1.4M theft from dying Army veteran's life savings
The State April 7, 2022
COLUMBIA, S.C. (Tribune News Service) — Sam and Naomi Hayes of Richland County couldn't resist the temptation.
Their neighbor, 82-year-old veteran Bobby Gene Davidson, had no close family and was dying in a skilled nursing care facility with 24-hour medical staff on duty. So the married couple worked up a scheme to steal all of his money — $1.4 million, an indictment against the Columbia couple said.
On Wednesday, the couple pleaded guilty in federal court in Columbia to charges stemming from the theft, which involved transferring more than $1 million from various banks into an account controlled by Sam Hayes.
"How do you wish to plead?" U.S. Judge Mary Lewis asked the couple Wednesday.
"Guilty," said Sam Hayes, 69, a retired maintenance worker at Allen University, one of two private historically Black colleges in Columbia. His lawyer, Taylor Bell, stood beside him.
"I plead guilty," said Naomi Hayes, 65, standing next to her lawyer, Ramie Shalabi.
A January indictment charged the couple with bank fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy. But because of their cooperation and guilty pleas, they will be eligible for lesser sentences.
Sam Hayes was allowed to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud. Naomi Hayes pleaded guilty to one count of misprision of a felony, or knowing about a serious crime and not going to law enforcement to stop it.
Davidson, a U.S. Army veteran, died on Oct. 27 while the theft was still being carried out. He is buried at Fort Jackson.
Lewis will sentence the couple at a later, undetermined date.
Sam Hayes faces a maximum prison term of 20 years, and Naomi Hayes faces a maximum of three years.
The couple are out on a $25,000 bond.
Couple used veteran's cash for mortgage, car, vacation
Last April, Sam Hayes called 911 after he hadn't seen Davidson for several days, Assistant U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday explained to the judge Wednesday.
Davidson was incapacitated, and, shortly after, was transferred to a nursing home, NHC Healthcare, Parklane, in Dentsville in Richland County. Sam Hayes visited Davidson in the nursing home last July and had him sign a power of attorney, giving Hayes control of all his money.
At the time, Davidson was mentally and physically incapacitated and incapable of realizing he was signing such a document.
With the power of attorney, Sam Hayes gained control of Davidson's bank accounts at Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank and AllSouth Federal Credit Union and soon began transferring money to a single account.
One of the first transfers was for $76,290 to pay off the mortgage held by NationStar Mortgage on the Hayes' house in Columbia. Sam Hayes also wrote a $250,000 check to Naomi Hayes, part of which — $58,626 — she used to buy a 2022 Infiniti from Dick Smith Infiniti.
"This was money that rightfully belonged to Mr. Davidson and his estate, and should have been used for his benefit," Holliday said.
According to the indictment and evidence in the case, Davidson's money also was used to buy homes and rental property for Hayes family members. Some family members also took a Hawaiian vacation.
Federal authorities are now working to recover as much of the money as possible, and the Hayes have agreed to help as part of their bid for keeping their sentences as low as possible.
The scheme came to light last fall after the Bank of America, where Hayes had an account, became suspicious of large sums of money being transferred in and out of the account. The bank notified the Richland County Sheriff's Department, whose investigators — realizing the matter was a complicated bank fraud — contacted the Secret Service, whose agents specialize in that kind of crime.
"Ultimately, we are awaiting sentencing," said Bell, Sam Hayes' attorney. "Circumstances are going to come out at that hearing."
Outside of the courthouse on Wednesday, Sam Hayes tugged at a cigarette after his hearing.
Asked by The State if he had any comment, he said, "I hope you don't do a story."
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