The Sumter ringleader of a scheme to use a chainsaw to lop off the hand of a mentally disabled man to get $671,000 in insurance proceeds may still have nearly half of it stashed away to use after he gets out of prison.
That was one clear implication of conflicting statements made in federal court Thursday before U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie, who questioned ringleader David Player and FBI agent Ron Grosse – the case lead investigator – in detail about what happened to all the money.
Player, 58, who pleaded guilty before Currie, admitted hatching the plot to lop off the left hand of Michael “Porky” Weaver, 52, between the wrist and elbow. Weaver, described as functionally illiterate and mentally incapacitated, now wears a hook.
After the 2008 chainsaw amputation, Player was able to get the insurance payoff because the mentally disabled Weaver regarded him “as a father figure,” according to prosecutors. Player already had power of attorney for Weaver and was handling Weaver’s monthly Social Security checks.
“We want to know what happened to the money,” Currie told Player as she grilled him on the cash.
“If you lie to me today – your guidelines go up and this will have a significant impact on your sentencing,” Currie, speaking in icy tones, told Player.
Under a plea agreement, Player pleaded guilty Thursday to the scheme in exchange for prosecutors dropping unrelated gun charges against him. Specifically, he pleaded to one count of felony mail fraud, meaning he received unlawful insurance payments via the U.S. mail.
Player admitted to Currie that he received some $671,000 in insurance proceeds after Weaver’s hand was cut off by a chainsaw-wielding friend on Player’s property after they all drank alcohol. They told medical personnel and the insurance company, The Hartford, they were clearing trees with a pole saw – a pole with a mini-chainsaw – when the incident happened.
Of the $671,000, some $80,000 went to an attorney who helped get the money from the insurance company. That left about $590,000. Another $80,000 went to pay for Player’s divorce. Another $14,000 to $26,000 went to build an auto repair shop.
Earlier this year, as of February, there was some $300,000 in insurance proceeds left in a Sumter bank. The money has since been withdrawn.
That much, prosecutors and Player agreed on.
Player told Currie that he withdrew the money at Weaver’s direction and gave the $300,000 in cash to him.
Currie then asked Grosse his version of events.
The FBI agent told the judge that Weaver was so mentally incompetent he wouldn’t know “what to do with $5, let alone $500,000.”
Grosse said a lot of the insurance proceeds were “eaten up over two-three years by Mr. Player. He had no other income to speak of. He lived on the insurance money.”
Grosse made it clear that he didn’t believe that Weaver wound up with the $300,000 Player withdrew from the bank. “Mr. Weaver benefitted, if anything, very little. He still lives in the same camper he always did. It’s a hovel. I don’t know how he lives there.
“Player gave him money for beer and cigarettes and maybe a little bit of food – the rest of it was used by Mr. Player.”
After hearing Grosse, Currie said, “Mr. Player, you are on the edge of a dangerous precipice.”
Currie said she will sentence Player on Dec. 14, after federal officials do their routine pre-sentence investigation. To be eligible for the reduced sentence most defendants get if they plead guilty, Player must accept responsibility for his crime, which means he must tell the truth about where all the insurance money is.
Prosecutors described Weaver as a willing participant in the scheme, but said his mental capacity was so diminished it wouldn’t have been appropriate to charge him.
Another participant, Gerald “Trey” Hardin III, 34, pleaded guilty last month. A self-described crack cocaine addict, Hardin had known Player since Hardin was young. Hardin would have testified against Player if Player had not pleaded guilty. Hardin said he got some $5,000 and a car for his role in the scheme.
The break in the case that resulted in Hardin’s plea didn’t come until 2009. Player’s wife, who had filed for divorce, passed along information she had found in a briefcase to her lawyer, who tipped the FBI.
Weaver’s attorney, Edye Moran, said, “Michael Weaver is a vulnerable victim in this case, and he has been a vulnerable victim throughout.”
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.