When Thomas Clay Wilson was charged with swindling his Mount Pleasant wife out of her life savings, nearly $1 million, it wasn't the first time the 59-year-old man had been accused of being a confidence man.
Wilson was charged last week by the South Carolina Attorney General's Office with breach of trust with fraudulent intent for allegedly stealing $950,000 from his former wife, Sally Ann Chickering. He has a history of alleged deceit, according to Family Court records.
His son, Clay Wilson, even tried warning people about his father's scheming ways on a website, according to court records.
"He is a psychopath," the internet posting read. "He cannot take responsibility for his actions. He will try to charm you."
The posting also warned women romantically involved with his father to stay away.
"He will steal money from you," the posting read.
According to authorities, it was too late for Chickering who lost every penny of the $950,000 Wilson allegedly stole from her.
Life savings swindled
Chickering, a nurse, divorcee and mother of five, was living in Colorado when she met Wilson, who was living in Idaho.
Wilson wooed Chickering, sending her flowers and flying her on fly-fishing trips, according to documents in the pair's divorce file in Charleston County.
After marrying Wilson, Chickering, who is currently in her 60s, handed over her life savings to her husband, trusting he would invest it, the records stated.
Wilson had claimed he was an investment advisor making more than $50,000 a month and claimed he had a net worth of $3.5 million, court records stated.
The couple moved into a large home in Mount Pleasant, took vacations, and lived a good life, according to court records.
Wilson led people to believe he'd invested his wife's money in Apple stocks, among other investments and claimed to work from home, sitting behind two large computer screens set up in his office, court records stated.
Chickering's suspicions were raised when she discovered many of their bills had been left unpaid, according to the divorce documents.
She eventually discovered in 2011 that Wilson had not invested a penny of her money and had kept it all for himself, according to authorities.
Chickering filed for divorce in hopes of recovering the money, but Wilson skipped town leaving her financially drained, according to court records.
"She had no money to live on, no job, no home, and was scared and concerned for her future," court documents stated.
Several individuals who submitted affidavits in the divorce proceedings declined to comment out of fear of Wilson, they said.
Chickering also declined to comment.
Her affidavit in the divorce, however, portrays her own fear of Wilson. "As I continue with this case, I suspect he will try to get my nursing license pulled," she stated in an affidavit. "I know this sounds a bit paranoid, but I am looking at all of this paperwork and seeing so much evidence that this is the kind of thing he does."
Following his departure, Chickering found a box Wilson left behind in their closet, which he had warned her never to open. Inside, Chickering learned more about the man she'd married.
Documents stacked inside the box portrayed a trail of alleged deceit by Wilson, according to court documents.
New York court records detailed Wilson had been sued for fraud in 1997 for trying to lure investors into joining him as limited partners in a real estate venture. It was alleged he diverted their investments for his own purpose, according to the divorce proceedings.
Documents also detailed an attempted 2007 real estate deal in Albuquerque, N.M., in which Wilson was accused of filing for bankruptcy in order to avoid paying back funds, court records stated.
Wilson even tried doing business with a former Man of Steel. While living in Colorado, Wilson said he was collecting investors to buy 35 acres near Basalt, build greenhouses and grow organic vegetables, according to an October report in the Aspen Times.
The land, a ranch listed at $5.9 million, is owned by actor Dean Cain, star of the television series, "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman."
Cain's realtor, Bob Starodoj, told the Colorado newspaper Wilson's plan "didn't pass the smell test" and he steered Cain and everyone else away from Wilson.
Last year, a Charleston County Family Court judge granted Chickering's divorce and found Wilson in contempt of court after he failed to comply with the court's orders. Wilson went through "extensive lengths to hide his actual whereabouts," the order stated and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
It's unclear exactly where Wilson traveled following his departure from South Carolina, but in January police found Wilson in Connecticut staying with a group of Mormons who had unwittingly taken him in, according to authorities.
Sergeant David Knowles, a detective for Stonington police, received a call that Wilson was in town, and they discovered he was wanted in South Carolina.
Shortly after Connecticut's governor signed the extradition warrant, police got a call from members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who lived in Mystic.
"He pretty much conned another family to take him in," Knowles said.
Wilson contacted the Mormons and said he wanted to convert to the religion, Knowles said. Wilson told a church member he was down on his luck and needed a place to stay, according to Knowles.
The family did some research and found several news articles about Wilson and called police.
Police arrested Wilson, who began to experience health issues and was hospitalized within the jail, Knowles said.
Meanwhile, the New Mexico Attorney General's Office was contacted by Chickering about Wilson, according to spokesman Phil Sissneros.
Another ex-wife in New Mexico alleged Wilson had swindled her out of money about five years ago, Sissneros said.
"Unfortunately, all of the victims decided to clam up. So our investigation came to a close because we couldn't go any further with no victims," he said.
When Chickering contacted New Mexico authorities seeking help, their attorney general's office contacted the attorney general's office in South Carolina.
State authorities launched a securities fraud investigation and issued a warrant for Wilson's arrest.
Last week, Wilson was extradited from Connecticut to Charleston, where he faced a judge.
Wilson, who pleaded not guilty, told the judge Chickering was using the attorney general's office as a collection agency and claimed she had frivolously spent her own money.
The judge denied bail and Wilson remains behind bars in Charleston County.
Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.
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