Golf

Prosecution: Dustin Johnson’s attorney spent stolen millions on jets, gambling, women

Dustin Johnson visited the TPC Myrtle Beach in February 2018 for the groundbreaking of the Dustin Johnson Golf School’s new golf performance center.
Dustin Johnson visited the TPC Myrtle Beach in February 2018 for the groundbreaking of the Dustin Johnson Golf School’s new golf performance center. jbell@thesunnews.com

If a prosecutor’s claims are correct, real estate attorney Nathan ‘Nat’ Hardwick found incredibly lavish ways to spend millions of dollars he is accused of stealing and embezzling from his law partners and PGA Tour golfer and Coastal Carolina alumnus Dustin Johnson.

According to reporting on the trial by Meredith Hobbs of Law.com, the alleged spending included $18.47 million on gambling, private jet travel and women from 2011 through August 2014. The prosecution submitted two binders of documentation as evidence that Hardwick spent $4.39 million on “female social companions,” including one testifying witness who claimed to have met him through SugarDaddy.com.

Hardwick’s trial is ongoing in Atlanta on multiple charges including fraud and conspiracy in connection with his alleged theft of approximately $26 million from the accounts of Morris Hardwick Schneider and the affiliated LandCastle Title company. The prosecution has rested its case.

Johnson, 33, filed a lawsuit against Hardwick, partners Mark Wittstadt and brother Gerard Wittstadt, and their Atlanta-based law firm in October 2014 and reached a settlement in 2016.

Johnson initially claimed in the suit that the defendants conspired to bilk him of $3 million with a fabricated story about an investment opportunity to actually cover shortages in the operating and trust accounts of their firm and LandCastle Title. The shortages were allegedly caused by misappropriations.

Johnson, who described Hardwick in his suit as an officer in his corporation and one of the primary advisers in his pro golf career, amended his suit to claim he believed Hardwick was used as a “pawn” by the Wittstadts to scam him of the $3 million.

The embattled law firm filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July 2015, and Johnson reached a settlement for at least $2 million that had to be approved by the bankruptcy court.

Hardwick, 53, was arrested by federal authorities in February 2016 along with Asha Maurya, the former controller for Morris Hardwick Schneider’s residential real estate closing side who was named as a co-conspirator. Maurya pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud last year and is cooperating with the government.

She has admitted to stealing $900,000 from the firm. Hardwick’s defense team, led by Ed Garland of Garland Samuel & Loeb, has argued that Maurya is the culprit. Garland said in court that Maurya defrauded companies she worked for before joining the law firm and stole money from an ambulance company that hired her after she left the firm.

Hardwick is charged with 24 counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and making false statements to financial institutions, and faces up to 34 years in prison if convicted.

According to Law.com articles, prosecutor J. Russell Phillips alleges Hardwick spent nearly $4 million on three women – Julia Olivares, ex-fiancée Heather Inman and Katrena Corcoran of Nebraska, who testified she met Hardwick online in 2008 via SugarDaddy.com.

Corcoran testified that Hardwick arranged private jet charters for her trips to Disney World and the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., gave her a credit card to use and gifts including a car, clothes, shoes and makeup. She said the last time she saw Hardwick was in 2014 in New Orleans, where he left her about $1,500 in cash at the hotel desk when she arrived and gave her another $10,000 in cash before she left.

Other alleged expenditures described in testimony include more than $7 million at casinos, more than $3 million with a bookie, $680,000 for a luxury condo at The St. Regis Atlanta, $273,000 on a diamond ring for Inman, $186,000 on a deposit for a party on a private island, and $635,000 on a trip to the 2014 British Open for golfing buddies that included a customized jet and round at St. Andrews.

Phillips alleges these expenditures were made despite Hardwick showing a negative bank account balance in 2010.

Over seven days of prosecution testimony, the government called, among others, Hardwick’s former equity partners Art Morris and Mark Wittstadt, bookies, Corcoran, an FBI investigator and several of Hardwick’s personal bankers and creditors to testify that he lied to them about his outstanding legal judgments and other liabilities.

See number one SC golfer, Dustin Johnson's journey from childhood to the 2018 Masters in this collection of photos of his career.

Is DJ HOF worthy?

Does Dustin Johnson already have the resume of a Hall of Famer?

The company he joined this year suggests he just might. Johnson recently completed his 11th season on the PGA Tour, winning three times during the 2017-18 season to align himself with some of the biggest names in the sport’s history.

Johnson has 19 career PGA Tour wins, which ties him for 38th all time with Ben Crenshaw, Ernie Els, Doug Ford, Hubert Green and Tom Kite. All five are members of the World Golf Hall of Fame, and Johnson appears likely to join them in several years.

He has won at least once each year since joining the PGA Tour in 2008, a year after completing his collegiate career at Coastal Carolina, and has now won at least three times in each of the last three seasons. Tiger Woods was the last to do that, winning at least four times from 2005 to 2009.

Johnson’s next victory would push him into a tie for 34th on the all-time wins list. Hale Irwin, Bill Mehlhorn, Greg Norman and Doug Sanders all have 20 victories.

HOF ceremony moved

The 2018 induction ceremony for the Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame was among the casualties of Hurricane Florence and the flooding that followed.

The ceremony was scheduled for Sept. 20, but hotelier and longtime course operator Larry Leagans and the late Ed Bullock will now become the 24th and 25th members of the hall on Nov. 15 in a ceremony at Pine Lakes Country Club.

A reception is scheduled for 6 p.m. and the ceremony 7 p.m. for invited guests. Organizers hope to have the ceremony outdoors in the Hall of Fame Garden behind the Pine Lakes clubhouse if weather permits. It will move inside if necessary.

An affiliated golf tournament that was slated to raise money for the Project Golf charity has been canceled.

“The tournament was new and we’ll think about it and have a good solid plan for next year,” said Tracy Conner, executive director of the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association and a Hall of Fame event coordinator.

Howard selected

Bobby Howard, who had a large role in establishing the headquarters of the Carolinas PGA Section on the Grand Strand, will be the 48th inductee into the CPGA Hall of Fame.

The Lexington native is being recognized for his promotion of the game at the multiple courses he owned; leadership in South Carolina golf, the CPGA and the community; and his overall love for teaching and sharing the game. He has been a PGA of America member since 1964.

Howard served as president of the South Carolina Chapter in 1967 and grew membership from 40 to 120 professionals, then served as the CPGA president from 1969-1970.

As CPGA president, he was responsible for acquiring the land and building the section’s headquarters office in the Myrtle Beach area, and it remained on the Strand for 35 years before relocating to Greensboro, N.C., in 2011.

He also appointed a committee to rewrite the CPGA Constitution and implement several significant changes for golf pros in the Carolinas. He won the CPGA Golf Professional of the Year award in 1971.

Sunbelt wraps up

Chris Hockaday of Angier, N.C., earned his only victory of the season on the Sunbelt Senior Professional Tour in the final tournament of the year this past week.

Hockaday defeated Tim Conley of Braselton, Ga., 1 up in the finals of the sixth annual Myrtle Beach Match Play Championship at the Surf Golf & Beach Club in North Myrtle Beach.

Hockaday took the lead at the 16th hole, halved the 17th after Conley three-putted, and halved the par-3 18th with a par to earn $8,000 of the $22,000 purse for his sixth Sunbelt win since 2011. Conley received $4,000.

The tournament’s 28 players were from 12 states, Canada and England.

John Whitty of Longs and Myrtle Beach area residents Larry Swan, James Brooks and Mike Guy, the Surf Club’s head professional, all participated but lost in the first round.

The Sunbelt Tour is for pros and amateurs 47 and older and began in 1996. Longs resident Don Barnes is the founder and operator. The 24th season opens in February at Miami Springs Golf Club in Florida. For information visit www.sunbeltseniortour.com.

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