A Hilton Head Island family appeared in court Monday to pick up the pieces of their claim on ancestral property, which they say has been left in disarray by an attorney who was charged with fraud in Jasper County and later committed suicide.
About 20 descendants of Dennis Allen, who bought 38 acres of waterfront property on Hilton Head between 1897 and 1906, heard testimony from Allen heirs who say they, too, were victims of fraud.
Four of the 75 or so heirs who lay claim to the land, which straddles a section of Marshland Road between Broad Creek and the back of Indigo Run, accused attorney Horace Jones Jr. of Rock Hill of attempting to defraud them by filing a lawsuit without consent from the heirs he claimed to represent.
Jones was found dead last month of an apparent suicide on the day of his trial in Jasper County, where he was accused of swindling three elderly sisters out of 77 acres in the Levy area that had been in their family since 1870, authorities say.
In 2009, Jones filed a lawsuit claiming to represent heirs of the Hilton Head property who say they never agreed to be his clients. The suit appeared to be heading toward a partition sale of the land by the court for $4.5 million.
Plaintiffs named in the lawsuit filed by Jones testified Monday that they wanted the suit dismissed and any land deal halted. Other members of the family want genealogy and legal work conducted by Jones to be retained in the hopes it will more quickly clear the family's title to the land.
Beaufort County Master in Equity Marvin Dukes declined to rule on the validity of Jones' lawsuit Monday, but said that the sale of the family's land would not go forward until all claims of fraud are settled in future hearings.
Melrose Commercial Real Estate has offered $4.5 million on the property to build "workforce housing" on 27 acres for teachers, nurses and other professionals, and for the remaining 11 acres to be annexed by Indigo Run, pending that gated community's approval, according to lawyer Terry Finger.
Dukes said he hoped to find a resolution to the case while keeping in mind the legacy of the historic property owner, who was a descendant of freed slaves.
"You wonder what (Allen) would say and what he would tell all of you about how he would want this done," Dukes said. "I think he would say, 'I want less lawyers and more family members involved. ... I just wanted to leave this property and have a legacy.'"
Follow reporter Erin Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_erinh.
Oct. 2, 2015 From highly competitive tax auctions to a resurgence of development, pressures are mounting against heirs' property owners, making it more difficult for them to continue a land-holding legacy that extends from the end of the Civil War. | READ
- Great deal or grave scam?: Hilton Head family says lawyer who committed suicide swindled them, Nov. 21, 2015
- Lawyer accused of bilking $600,000 from Jasper County property owners commits suicide before trial, Oct. 19, 2015
- Bidders step aside so heirs win property at Beaufort County tax sale, Oct. 5, 2015
- PUTTING THE LAND TO WORK: Beaufort County heirs are growing trees, planting crops, leasing land to afford to keep ancestral land, Oct. 2, 2015