COLUMBIA — A South Carolina man pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a federal fraud charge, acknowledging his role in an insurance scheme that cost a mentally disabled man his left hand.
Gerald B. Hardin of Cayce told U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie during a court appearance in Columbia that he used a pole saw to cut off the hand of a mentally disabled man in Sumter County in 2008.
Hardin, 34, had originally faced six fraud charges. But under a plea deal with prosecutors, those counts were dropped, and Hardin was allowed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. In return for that felony plea, Hardin has agreed to help prosecutors in their case against a third man, David Player.
Player had taken out accidental death and dismemberment insurance policies against the mentally disabled man and, since 1995, had been the listed recipient of the man’s supplemental security income benefits he received because of his disability. In May 2008, prosecutors said, Player convinced Hardin to help him cut off the man’s hand for a share of insurance money Player said he would get from filing claims.
In court, both prosecutors and Hardin described how the mentally disabled man, Michael “Porky” Weaver, was a willing participant in the scheme and viewed Player as a father figure.
The men had originally told authorities they had been trimming trees at Player’s home when Hardin dropped the saw, cutting off Weaver’s hand. But in court on Tuesday, Hardin said Player had used rags to tie Weaver’s arm to a tree limb while Hardin deliberately wielded the saw, which was described as similar to a weed eater with an 8-inch chain saw-style blade at the end.
According to Hardin, Player said he had researched what to do online and wrapped a tourniquet of sorts around the injury.
“I was on drugs real bad at the time,” Hardin said, telling the judge he was addicted to crack cocaine then. “I asked Porky if he wanted to do that. I didn’t want to do it, really.”
Weaver’s left hand was severed in what Assistant U.S. Attorney Dean Eichelberger described as a clean break. According to prosecutors, medical officials said that, had the amputation really been an accident, the cut would have been more ragged, as Weaver struggled to get away from the churning blade.
Hardin was sent back to Player’s home to retrieve Weaver’s hand, Eichelberger said. Doctors were able to reattach the hand, but it was eventually rejected and had to be re-amputated.
Federal prosecutors said Player filed insurance claims based on the injury, ultimately collecting more than $671,000. Eichelberger said Player used insurance money to pay for a home for his own son as well as a storage building for himself.
In 2009, a year after the amputation, authorities said they learned of the apparent scheme after Player’s wife found a briefcase containing several dozen credit cards in Weaver’s name. Eichelberg said Player had used the cards to pay insurance policy premiums.
In exchange for his participation, Hardin said, Player loaned him money for a down payment on a new truck and paid some of his monthly rent. Prosecutors said Player promised to buy a new camper for Weaver, but that he hadn’t appeared to have done so.
Hardin was allowed to remain free on bond until his sentencing, which was set for Nov. 20. He faces a possible 5-year sentence, although prosecutors have recommended that he receive consideration for helping them with their ongoing case against Player.
Both Hardin and his attorney declined to speak with a reporter after the hearing.
Player, who has pleaded not guilty to multiple fraud charges, has a scheduled court appearance Thursday.