Gerald “Trey” Hardin III pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to being part of a scheme to get some $671,000 in insurance money by chopping off a mentally disabled man’s hand with a chainsaw.
“I was on drugs real bad at the time ... crack cocaine,” Hardin, 34, of Cayce, a short, stocky man with light brown hair, told U.S. District Court Judge Cameron Currie in Columbia just before pleading guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit federal mail fraud.
The dismemberment of Michael “Porkchop” Weaver, 52, of Sumter County, took place in 2008 when Hardin and another Sumter man, David Player, are accused of tying Weaver’s left arm to a tree with rags, stretching it out, then lopping it off below the elbow with a pole chainsaw, assistant U.S. Attorney Dean Eichelberger told the court.
Although Hardin and Player are said to have cut off Weaver’s hand in May 2008, the break in the case that resulted in Hardin’s plea didn’t come for several years. That occurred when Player’s wife, who was then getting a divorce, tipped federal authorities to information that caused the FBI to investigate, Eichelberger said in court.
Never miss a local story.
Player’s wife found a briefcase full of credit cards in Weaver’s name and turned them over to her attorney. Her attorney then turned the cards over to FBI agent Ron Grosse, Eichelberger said.
“Mr. Player is the prime mover in this case,” Eichelberger said.
Player, 58, who is scheduled to go to trial in October, for many years was Weaver’s legal representative, according to an indictment in the case. The indictment says Player took out insurance policies on Weaver that would pay off in the event of Weaver’s death or dismemberment. As Weaver’s representative, Player had the legal status to collect the money and spend it, according to court filings.
Weaver is a “mentally disabled adult male, a lifelong resident of Sumter County, illiterate, alcoholic,” Eichelberger said.
Player, who has known both Weaver and Hardin for decades, has an emotional hold over them, Eichelberger said. “Michael Weaver worships the ground David Player walks on,” he said. When Hardin was a youth, Player dated his mother, Eichelberger said.
Hardin is expected to testify against Player in his trial.
Hardin will be sentenced in November. He could receive a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine and be required to pay restitution.
Player used some of the money to buy a mo-ped, a camper and a house, Eichelberger said in court.
Federal authorities said they do not know where the entire $671,000 is. After depositing the insurance proceeds from The Hartford insurance company, Player withdrew large amounts of cash – some $292,000 – according to court filings and Eichelberger’s court statements.
After allegedly cutting off the hand, Hardin and Player took Weaver to the emergency room at Sumter’s Tuomey Medical Center. Player and Hardin reportedly told medical workers they had been trimming a tree when Hardin lost control of the gas-powered Poulan Pro chainsaw and accidentally cut off Weaver’s hand, Eichelberger said.
Nurses asked Hardin to retrieve the hand to see if it could be reattached. Hardin went back to Player’s property and got the hand, which was still lying on the ground.
Weaver was transported to Charlotte, where doctors reattached the hand. But the operation didn’t take, and the hand had to be amputated again a week later, Eichelberger said.
Eichelberger said a key piece of evidence in the case was the nature of Weaver’s wound. An orthopedist told federal investigators Weaver’s hand was “completely severed at a right angle to the forearm ... a surprisingly clean cut and one that had minimal shredding of the flesh.”
Normal chainsaw injuries are “virtually always jagged, at compound angles and demonstrate signs of skipping over the bone,” Eichelberger told Currie.
After court, Eichelberger said Weaver knew about the scheme and had agreed to go along with it. In view of Weaver’s low mental capacities, it would not have been right to charge him with a crime, Eichelberger said.
There is no evidence that Weaver got much, if any, money from the insurance proceeds, Eichelberger said.
Hardin testified in court he didn’t know that Player stood to get some $671,000 in insurance money from the scheme. Hardin said he himself only expected to get $5,000, but it wasn’t clear if he managed to get that much.
“I didn’t want to do it, really,” Hardin told Currie. But Player kept insisting, Hardin said.
Player’s attorney, Mike Duncan of Columbia, said, “Mr. Player cared for Mr. Weaver over many years without compensation and denies involvement in any wrongdoing.”