Myrtle Beach family feuds over estate

Son accuses sibling, dad of pilfering mom's assets

dwren@thesunews.comMay 22, 2011 

While the matriarch of one of Myrtle Beach's most influential families was dying of cancer, a son and her estranged husband were scheming to steal her money, car, jewelry, real estate holdings and other assets, according to a lawsuit filed by another son in Horry County's probate court.

The lawsuit was filed by Bert Anderson, the youngest of James and Dorothy Anderson's two children and the personal representative of his mother's estate. In it, he said his brother, Bobby, and his father started stealing his mother's assets as soon as they learned she had a terminal illness.

In court documents, James and Bobby Anderson deny any wrongdoing. They say that Dorothy Anderson willfully transferred her belongings "to preserve her estate" and "protect assets from judgment creditors upon her death."

They also say that Bert Anderson has made "fraudulent misrepresentations" to the court about their role in theasset transfers.

Bobby Anderson declined to discuss the lawsuit when contacted by telephone on two occasions last week. James Anderson declined to discuss the lawsuit when contacted at his home. Their lawyer, Robert "Shep" Guyton, did not return messages seeking comment.

At stake is millions of dollars in property and cash that Bert Anderson says belongs to his mother's estate.

Building an empire

Dorothy Anderson was born in 1933 in Conway, the sixth child in a family of 14 siblings. She married James Anderson in 1951 and moved to the beach 18 years later - along with her sister, Mary Frances Tall - when she bought a boarding house on Ninth Avenue North called the Welcome Mat.

Over the next four decades, Dorothy Anderson grew the family's hotel fortune to about a half-dozen properties with more than 2,000 rooms. Along the way, she spearheaded movements to help beautify Ocean Boulevard by burying utility lines underground and talked the City Council into backing Treasures by the Sea - a Christmas-time, nautical-themed light show that she hoped would attract more tourists to the beach during the slow winter season.

Dorothy Anderson also played a key role in local civic organizations, as a founder of the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association and a board member of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. In 2003, she was named the chamber's Citizen of the Year.

Although the recent real estate collapse wiped out much of the family's wealth - their flagship Poindexter resort, for example, was lost to foreclosure after being in the family for 33 years - the Andersons remain one of this area's business leaders.

When Dorothy Anderson was diagnosed with stomach cancer in May 2009, her doctor gave her just two months to live.

"The doctor asked my mom if she had any questions and she said, 'No,'" said Bert Anderson, who was with his mother when she was diagnosed. "Then the doctor said, 'Well, can I give you any advice?' My mom's answer was: 'I don't need any advice from you because you've already given up.'"

She then sought treatment at one of the nation's top cancer clinics - MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston - and battled her disease for more than a year, keeping a hand in the family business until the final months of her life.

"She would still go by the property when she wasn't in a chemo cycle and check on things," Bert Anderson said. "She definitely knew what was going on."

It was after her diagnosis in 2009 that Bert Anderson said his father and brother "embarked upon a scheme" to take Dorothy Anderson's property and other assets, according to the lawsuit filed in November.

The lawsuit alleges that James and Bobby Anderson used deception and forgery to steal Dorothy Anderson's 50 percent interest in 11 parcels of land, with her share worth at least $4.5 million, according to county property records. Most of the property is located between Kings Highway and Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach, and two of the sites are oceanfront.

James and Bobby Anderson also tricked her into signing over stock certificates worth an estimated $298,112 and changed the title to her Mercedes Benz automobile, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also outlines an alleged scheme in which James and Bobby Anderson used back-dated documents for JBDK LLC - one of the family's corporations - to block Bert Anderson's access to a Carolina First bank account.

According to the lawsuit, James and Bobby Anderson told Dorothy Anderson that she needed to let Bobby Anderson hold her assets in his name so creditors could not take the property from her. Bert Anderson said could find no evidence that any creditors were threatening to take his mother's property.

"I was able to get a certificate [from the clerk of court] showing that as of July 27, 2010, there were no pending judgments and no judgments filed within the previous 10 years," Bert Anderson said. "That absolutely floored my mom. She realized the stuff she'd been signing away had been done through trickery."

James and Bobby Anderson said in court documents that Dorothy Anderson approved of all the property and other transfers and that Bert Anderson knew or should have known about his mother's financial problems and her desire to protect her assets from creditors after her death.

Bert Anderson "has made claims he knows or should have known to be false," according to court documents James and Bobby Anderson filed January.

Bert Anderson won a default judgment against his brother and father because they failed to file their response to his lawsuit within the time period allowed. Judge Deirdre Edmonds denied a motion by James and Bobby Anderson to set aside that default during a court hearing in March.

Money disappears

The JBDK bank account includes income from one of the Anderson family's rental management programs that is deposited each month. That money is then used to pay the mortgage on 18 condominium units the family owns at the Camelot by the Sea resort in Myrtle Beach. Whatever amount is left over was supposed to be divided equally by James and Dorothy Anderson.

Even though the money was to be split evenly, Bert Anderson's lawsuit alleges that his father and brother started siphoning funds from the bank account in the months leading up to his mother's death.

A series of checks and cashier's checks were written from the JBDK account to Anderson Properties - a corporation that is owned and controlled by James and Bobby Anderson, according to court documents.

Bert Anderson said in his lawsuit that his mother was not aware of Anderson Properties and had no involvement in that corporation.

In addition to the checks, a six-figure deposit that was supposed to go into the account in July was diverted by James and Bobby Anderson before it could be deposited, according to the lawsuit.

James and Bobby Anderson allegedly diverted more than $483,000 from the account last year, according to Bert Anderson, court documents and bank records.

Bert Anderson said in court documents that his mother became aware that money was being diverted from the bank account and it was "the source of great anguish and worry to her during the final months of her life."

In an effort to keep her funds from being taken, Dorothy Anderson and her husband signed an agreement with Carolina First in September in which her share of the leftover monthly proceeds was to be disbursed only to her.

In her will, Dorothy Anderson designated that money to go to a trust overseen by her estate. She named Bert Anderson to be the personal representative of that estate.

In January, Bobby Anderson closed out the original JBDK account and opened a new one listing him as the corporation's managing member and the account's only signer, according to the lawsuit and bank records.

Bert Anderson alleges that his brother opened the account by using a document that had been back-dated to Feb. 20, 2009. That document purportedly transferred all of James Anderson's interests in JBDK to Bobby Anderson.

Bert Anderson said he has no idea what has happened to the money since his brother opened the new account. He said in a separate lawsuit filed this month against Carolina First that another $1.1 million is at risk because monthly deposits exceed $250,000 during the peak summer season.

He wants a judge to freeze the bank account until the lawsuit is resolved and appoint a receiver to take over JBDK. A hearing on those matters is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday at the Horry County Courthouse in Conway.

"We're only arguing about my mom's half," Bert Anderson said, adding that his mother's share will be divided between himself and his brother. "We're saying take the other half and do whatever you want with it. Right now, though, it's 100 percent to them and nothing to me."

Mercedes dispute

Bert Anderson said in interviews and in court documents that his brother and father regularly duped Dorothy Anderson out of her money and belongings during the last year of her life.

For example, Bert Anderson said his mother decided to sell $61,800 worth of stock she owned in Conway National Bank to his brother in order to raise money for medical bills. Dorothy Anderson transferred the stock, Bert Anderson said, but his brother never paid for it.

"There were properties that were moved out of her name" in the months leading up to her death, Bert Anderson said. "By the time she made her will it was too late. The lawyer said, 'You don't own this piece of property any more.'"

Dorothy Anderson last year had talked to a lawyer about divorcing her husband, but she died before the divorce was finalized. The divorce proceedings are continuing so her estate can claim its right to her share of the marital property.

"When she realized my father and brother were not trying to help her, that they were helping themselves and that my father was not doing anything to protect her, that's what did it," Bert Anderson said. "My mother and father had had problems in the past, but they always moved beyond it. She couldn't get past this, though."

One of the biggest family blow-ups occurred when Bobby Anderson used "coercion and threats" to get Dorothy Anderson to sign over the title to her 2005 Mercedes Benz SL500 automobile, according to the lawsuit.

"Bobby told her that they're getting ready to execute a judgment and the only way she could keep her car was to sign it over to him," Bert Anderson said. "She didn't have any judgments. She had negotiated herself out of judgments in all the real estate deals."

Emails provided to The Sun News by Bert Anderson show he and his lawyer - John Chase of Charleston - tried last year to get Guyton to intervene in a dispute over ownership of the Mercedes.

"Bobby is refusing to sign title back to mom on her car," Bert Anderson wrote to Guyton in an Aug. 23 email. "She confronted him this morning after her car was missing all weekend. She signed title to Bobby in duress in March 2010 or this spring. She was told creditors were going to come and take her car."

Chase followed up with another email to Guyton about two weeks later.

"Your clients have gone to considerable expense - several thousand dollars - to have the ignition and keys changed," Chase wrote in a Sept. 8 email to Guyton. "This does not bode well. Let me hear from you re. this at once, please."

Bert Anderson said his brother never returned the automobile.

Bert Anderson said the theft of his mother's assets was just one of her worries in the months leading up to her death. He said Dorothy Anderson also was being threatened with physical harm if she did not sign over property to James and Bobby Anderson.

In an Aug. 23 email to Guyton, Bert Anderson told the lawyer that his mother had been forced to move from her home "due to threats to her welfare."

"She felt threatened by my dad," Bert Anderson said. "Despite the oceanfront home and all the nice furnishings, she packed one bag and spent the last four months of her life in a condo at the Anderson Ocean Club."

Bert Anderson said family members also threatened him and vandalized his automobile on several occasions, including one Sunday afternoon when he brought lunch to his mother at the condo where she was living.

"I had my tires cut and am being threatened also," he told Guyton in the Aug. 23 email.

Accounts dwindle

At about the same time negotiations were taking place over the Mercedes, Chase and Bert Anderson were asking Guyton for more information about money that was allegedly missing from the JBDK bank account, according to emails provided to The Sun News.

Chase, in a Sept. 8 email to Bert Anderson, recounted a meeting he had that day with Guyton.

"He [Guyton] started off by promising me an accounting concerning the dollars taken out of the rental operating account," Chase wrote in the email. "I showed him ... the supporting documents for the debit allegations we had made. I think it concerned him very much [to] see checks written by your father and endorsed by your brother."

The accounting that Guyton promised never came, according to the emails and court documents.

Chase's frustration over what he felt was a lack of cooperation was evident in an Oct. 1 email he sent to Guyton.

"We perceive your clients to be acting in a dilatory and insincere fashion, for we have not received the accounting information ..." Chase wrote.

The emails also show that Chase and Bert Anderson were suspicious of visits James and Bobby Anderson made to see Dorothy Anderson in the hospital during her final days.

"Mom had a rough weekend and is in ICU," Bert Anderson wrote to Chase on Oct. 4, less than a week before his mother's death. "She is resting but talks in her sleep about what has been done to her. Brother and Dad have done nothing over the weekend but celebrate a wedding that she was not invited to attend. They are just continuing to do their own thing like nothing has happened."

Then, on Oct. 6 - four days before Dorothy Anderson's death on Oct. 10 - Bert Anderson told Chase in an email that his father and brother had begun to visit the hospital more often.

"Dad comes every morning and Bobby at least twice a day," he wrote.

Chase responded in an email: "I don't suppose you need me to tell you this, but I would be very suspicious about your father and brother's sudden change of heart and show of concern."

Bert Anderson said the property and asset transfers that occurred during Dorothy Anderson's final months have created a legal nightmare. He is trying to get his mother's name restored on all of her deeds and the car title.

"We can't probate the estate because of the lack of title and possession," he said. "Things move mighty slow. My brother and father have it within their power to honor her wishes and not go through this long, drawn-out process. It's frustrating."

The battle also has taken an emotional toll on the Anderson family - one that Bert Anderson thinks will never be healed.

"We haven't talked since mom's funeral," Bert Anderson said. "We've been able to put a good public face on it, but we're not a big, happy family. I don't think we ever will be."

Contact DAVID WREN at 626-0281

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