Todd Scott knew his family might suffer if he told the FBI that his boss was plotting a murder.
He had met Lawrence Lee in 2013, not long after moving to the Lowcountry. Lee, a retired Air Force fighter pilot who bought and resold real estate, was offering homes for rent on Craigslist.
Scott was a carpenter, so Lee’s offer for him to buy a house on James Island was attractive. The home would be Scott’s if he agreed to do some repairs.
To the New Jersey transplant, the house nestled next to a golf course was perfect for him, his wife and his teenage son. It had room to accommodate the infant boy the family would later add.
But when Lee asked Scott to find someone to kill his ex-wife, Scott said his dream started to crumble.
His decision to do the right thing by telling the FBI and becoming an informant has changed his life in the year since Lee’s arrest — and not for the better. Some people, he said, don’t believe the ordeal he has endured.
Recordings of his meetings with Lee were enough evidence for the Folly Beach man’s arrest. The alleged plot was disrupted.
But Scott said his good deed came at a price.
He lost his house and his job because Lee, who had hired him to remodel other homes, was locked up.
He almost lost his infant son when his wife prematurely gave birth.
Though the FBI gave the family nearly $22,000 over several months to move to a relative’s Isle of Palms home and eventually back to New Jersey, Scott said he was forced to sell some of his possessions to make ends meet.
“We thought we were starting a whole new life here, but it just got ripped to shreds,” Scott said. “I knew we would lose the house, but I did it anyway because I needed to stop this from happening.”
Scott and his wife told their story because they wanted to show what their family has endured after saving the community from a dangerous man, they said. Lee, 63, who served on a test unit for the F-117 stealth fighter and flew missions during the Gulf War, remained last week in a Miami federal detention center, where he was sent more than two months ago for a pretrial mental health evaluation, according to court records.
Scott, 50, his 42-year-old wife Meghan and their two children still live in an apartment with their two small dachshunds and their belongings stuffed into plastic containers. Their kitchen consists of an oven, a refrigerator and an office desk that serves as a cupboard.
Even with Lee behind bars, they fear for their lives whenever they venture outside, Scott said. His 10-month-old son cried recently when he saw a stranger in their home.
But Lee’s attorney, Cameron Blazer, said her client is not dangerous. Blazer added during a court hearing last week that Lee has “significant mental health challenges.”
“I can say categorically that Larry Lee poses no threat to Todd Scott or any other member of the community,” said Blazer, who works in Charleston attorney Andy Savage’s office.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams, who is prosecuting Lee, said he could not “provide any comment on pending cases, such as this one.”
‘Saw me coming’
Scott, a Pennsylvania native, and his family were living in a Philadelphia suburb when they sought a fresh start somewhere else.
The couple’s second child, a girl, had died soon after birth in July 2009, they said. Instead of staying in a home in Pilesgrove, N.J., that reminded them of the experience, they sold the house and resettled in Charleston, where they have an elderly relative.
The family of three was living in an apartment constructed between the stilts of the relative’s Isle of Palms house when Scott saw a Craigslist advertisement for a rental home in Summerville. Lee, their would-be landlord, gave them a tour, but they didn’t like the place.
A few days later, Scott said, Lee called back and offered him a deal for a house on Maxcy Lane next to the City of Charleston Golf Course. An online ad stated that tenants could avoid dealing with a bank and enter into a lease-to-own deal by providing a down payment and $1,400 a month. The house also qualified for “our sweat equity program, should the buyer choose to do some minor repairs,” the ad stated.
Scott signed mortgage paperwork without knowing that Lee didn’t own the home, he said. It belonged to Fred Rogers, a Folly Beach man with a history of drunkenness and a 2012 arrest on a charge of fondling a 13-year-old girl.
Over the next few months, Scott said, he put thousands of dollars into repairing the house. He also went to work at remodeling projects for Lee’s company, MustangHomes.
Lee was often a guest of the family. They ate dinner together. Lee asked about how Scott’s son was doing in school. He gave the boy a golf club when the teen said he wanted to take up the sport.
“He was nice,” Meghan Scott said. “He was a friend.”
But when Todd Scott recalls that time, he said he should have been suspicious of Lee.
“This guy saw me coming,” he said.
Scott knew that Lee had gone through a contentious divorce with the woman he married in 1974.
Lee had fallen behind on alimony payments. He would sometimes return from court hearings in Indiana, where Nora Lee had filed for divorce in 2008, and complain about her, Scott said.
Lee first asked in September 2013 if Scott knew how to get a gun, Scott said. Scott brushed it off. But when Lee got back from a divorce hearing, Scott said, he “was totally changed.”
“It was the first time I’ve seen him angry,” Scott said. “He asked me if I could kill his wife. I laughed. ... I didn’t take it seriously.”
Around the same time, Meghan Scott learned that she was pregnant. Considering the ordeal she went through at the end of her last pregnancy, the news was frightening to the couple.
Days later, Lee repeated his request for a hit man, Scott said.
“That was the point I knew it was for real,” Scott said. “It was no joke.”
For weeks, Scott said he held the plot at bay and told Lee that he knew of possible hit men in Philadelphia. He said he was scared to tell the local police because Lee was so well-connected.
He tried to persuade Lee to go into business with him, maybe open a restaurant or build kayaks, to pay alimony. But he also used his phone to record his next meeting with Lee.
“I taped the entire conversation, and it was a doozy,” Scott said. “I told him, ‘You don’t have to do this.’ But he said, ‘I just want the (expletive) (woman) dead.’ ”
Scott eventually got in touch with FBI Special Agent David Olsen.
“The next thing I know,” Scott said, “I’m working with the FBI.”
For the next five weeks, he said, life got scary for him and his family.
Lee often checked to see if Scott was wearing a wire. He carried guns, Scott said.
With her husband working as an FBI informant, Meghan Scott said her anxiety over the predicament sent her to the hospital several times during her pregnancy. Olsen told her to “hang in there” until Lee’s arrest.
The agent showed Todd Scott how to use a video camera disguised as a key fob that would film his last meeting with Lee on April 2, 2014. That day, Scott hurried home and met Lee in a shed, where he said Lee gave him $5,000 for finding a hit man.
The would-be killer would break into the North Charleston home of Lee’s ex-wife and shoot everyone inside, even if Lee’s two daughters were there, according to court records. The killer would make it look like a robbery.
“My heart was pounding in my chest,” Scott said of the meeting. “I thought he followed me and watched me with the FBI, and he was going to kill me in the shed.”
The FBI arrested Lee a week later, and he has been jailed ever since. A federal grand jury indicted him the next month on a charge of using an interstate commerce facility in a murder for hire.
After Lee returns from his mental evaluation in Florida, his attorney said she plans to oppose any further efforts to seal case records from public view. Until then, Blazer said she is bound by a judge to not talk about the case publicly.
The past year has been the most difficult ever for the Scotts, the couple said.
They were forced from their James Island house because of a possible threat on their lives, Scott said.
Weeks after the family moved, a friend of Lee’s, Joyce Cross, who has handled his business since his arrest, also filed court papers to evict the family for failing to pay rent.
But Huger resident Dana Poulin, Lee’s partner in MustangHomes, later sued Lee. Poulin’s attorney, Justin McGee of James Island, said in paperwork that Scott’s eviction opened the company to a possible civil lawsuit because Lee did it “for personal purposes, namely the intimidation of witnesses.”
Scott added that he had a mortgage on the home and that Lee owed him money for work he did on other projects.
His youngest son, who was born a month early, now crawls through their cramped apartment, exploring the plastic tubs that contain the family’s belongings.
Scott lost his truck, he said, because unemployment made it hard to handle the monthly payments. The money he got from the FBI paid some of his expenses, he said, but it wasn’t enough to stave off repossession. He uses his relative’s car to get around, he said, but without his own vehicle and the carpentry tools he left at one of Lee’s houses, he can’t get a job or move back to the Philadelphia area.
He also frets about leaving his family at home.
The sound of a car crash less than a block away startled Scott one Sunday night last month. He rushed to nearby Palm Boulevard and found an Isle of Palms police cruiser on its side. A man who had been driving under the influence had hit the back of Sgt. Kraig Thompson’s SUV, an incident report stated.
Scott pushed the windshield out and helped Thompson out of the cruiser, but when he realized that he had left his family behind, he ran back home. They were fine.
“This whole thing has been like a really bad Lifetime movie,” his wife said.
Scott went to a church to ask for help, and he was turned away when people there didn’t believe his story, he said.
“It’s difficult to ask for help,” he said. “We just want our life back.”
He aims to return to Philadelphia once Lee’s case ends. Jury selection for a trial is scheduled for May 13.
But until he gets the means to move back, Scott said he will fear for his life. He said he sees people outside his home who are watching him. A black truck had followed him on the streets around the time he moved to Isle of Palms.
Federal officials would not say whether Scott’s fears are legitimate.
“I can’t even go to the beach,” he said. “I’m afraid of the day I’m going to get shot in the face. ... But if someone asked me if I would do all this again, I would.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.