Former Lieber inmate says chaplain duped him into signing over $175,000
A former inmate of Lieber Correctional Institution has told authorities that the prison chaplain he trusted swindled him out of a $175,000 legal settlement.
Eddie Morris, 67, of Branchville, was relieved of his duties as chaplain of the Ridgeville prison before the inmate’s complaint was filed this month, according to the S.C. Department of Corrections. Agency spokesman Clark Newsom wouldn’t discuss what he called a “personnel matter.”
The inmate, 41-year-old Samuel Lee Jackson, had been serving a three-year sentence for grand larceny. Jackson has an extensive criminal history that includes convictions for check fraud and forgery, and for a crime he now is accusing the chaplain of — obtaining a signature or property by deceit.
Jackson had come to trust Morris, he told deputies from the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office. He also told the chaplain that he was legally blind and terminally ill, according to an incident report.
“The minister came in and wanted to help (Jackson) to get a will,” said Lt. Tony Phinney of the sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Division. “He let the minister know that he got a sizable settlement from a car accident.”
Jackson alleged that the chaplain, instead of preparing a will, drafted papers transferring the power of attorney for Jackson’s estate, including $175,000 stashed in a credit union, to Morris.
Jackson signed the documents willingly and without an attorney present, but he could not see them, the report said. He didn’t realize he was signing away the rights to his finances, according to the report.
Jackson discovered that the money was missing after he was released June 12. That’s when he contacted the Sheriff’s Office. He now lives in Greenville.
Phinney said the case remains under investigation and no arrest warrants have been obtained.
Attempts to contact Jackson and Morris were not successful Friday.
Morris has been arrested once in South Carolina, in 1989, according to the State Law Enforcement Division, but he was not convicted of the assault and battery charge.
Newsom said Morris was hired in 2008 as a part-time employee of the Self-Paced In-Class Education program, or SPICE.
The state collaboration with area technical colleges provides vocational training and spiritual teachings for inmates.
Morris also worked a separate, 20-hour-weekly position as an assistant to Lieber’s full-time chaplain. That chaplain retired in October, and Morris got the job to replace him, Newsom said.
Jackson said the $175,000 was withdrawn from his credit union account in March. Morris was released from his job in April, but Newsom wouldn’t say why or whether Morris left willingly.
At the time of his departure, Morris remained under a one-year probationary period, which is standard for new state employees.
Phinney said sheriff’s investigators who specialize in white-collar crime would like to determine if other inmates at Lieber, which houses 1,400 felons convicted of some of the state’s most egregious crimes, have been targeted.
“If this was actually going on, it’s some pretty dirty stuff,” Phinney said. “Going public might stir something up.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.