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Litchfield Plantation: Developer's collapse leads to lawsuits
By Charles Swenson
A plan to revive development in one of Waccamaw Neck’s oldest gated communities collapsed during the Great Recession, leaving lawsuits, foreclosures and the arrest of one of its principals on a charge of grand larceny in its wake.
Litchfield Plantation is out of funds to operate its amenities, according to court documents. One of those amenities, the restored Carriage House, was sold at a foreclosure sale last month. Property owners met in February to elect a new board to their association, but the validity of that move is being challenged in court.
And in the midst of the turmoil, the original owner of the 600-acre Litchfield Plantation tract sold her interest to a new developer.
A dispute between the former developer, E. Scott Trotter, and property owners who say they ousted him from the property owners association board led to Trotter’s arrest late last month. The property owners claim he assigned promissory notes and mortgages that represent over $2.1 million in loans payable to the association to make them payable to his own company, the Litchfield Plantation Buyout Group.
The Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office arrested Trotter, 68, for grand larceny, court records show. He was released on bond.
Those property owners who filed the complaint – Robert McMahan, Carol Kirby and Joe Johnston – are among five property owners who filed suit against the Litchfield Plantation Co. in early March, asking that the court declare they are the proper board for the homeowners group, the Litchfield Plantation Association. The Litchfield Plantation Co. was created when development began in the 1970s. Trotter was its president from May 2009, when he engineered a buyout with the original owner, Louise Parsons, until late March, when he resigned.
Documents filed in Circuit Court show that the controlling interest in Litchfield Plantation Co. was sold in March to Miller-Few Development, whose principal is John Miller of DeBordieu.
But court documents also show Trotter does not recognize the legitimacy of the association board that was elected at a meeting on Feb. 26. The S.C. Secretary of State’s office shows Trotter is still the registered agent for the association. The agency’s records show there was no agent from June 2009 until Trotter was added on Feb. 22, 2011.
In April, Trotter assigned the notes and mortgages from the Litchfield Plantation Association to the Litchfield Plantation Buyout Group, of which he is also the registered agent. The association held three notes to the Litchfield Plantation Co. A $1.5 million note was made in 2005. All but $281,881 was repaid when the plantation stables were sold to Georgetown County for a park.
The maturity on the note was extended until 2014, according to documents on file with the county Register of Deeds. A second note was made for $570,000, also due in 2014. The balance on both notes, $851,881, was secured with a mortgage on 39.5 acres proposed for future development.
After Trotter assigned the notes from the association to his buyout group, he recorded a memorandum in the courthouse on June 24 providing “constructive notice” of the assignment. The association board members went to the sheriff’s office three days later, saying Trotter was not authorized to make the assignments.
In addition to the property owners’ suit, the former president of Litchfield Plantation Co., Allan Kidston, filed suit in April seeking to collect over $100 million he says is owed to him through loans made to the company, starting in 1970.
Mortgage records show the loans were assigned to him by Resources Planning Corp., the company that Louise Parsons controlled, in August 2010.
Kidston’s suit says the loans are in default.
In response, Mark Neill, attorney for the new owners of Litchfield Plantation Co., says the claims are barred by statutes of limitations. He also notes that state law “imposes sanctions on attorneys and parties who file frivolous lawsuits.”
In letters included with the property owners’s suit, Neill asked Trotter’s attorney, Charles Nation, for Litchfield Plantation Co. records in April. He pointed out there were six active cases, including Kidston’s and the property owners’ suits.
In response, Nation asked the new owners of Litchfield Plantation Co. to fund a $27,130 shortfall in the Litchfield Plantation Association budget. Under the bylaws of the association, the company is required to pay either an assessment on its unsold lots or cover the association’s shortfall.
Nation also told Neill that the creation of a “shadow board” for the property owners association led to assessments being paid to two entities. Trotter asked the property owners to transfer their funds to the association he controls. They refused and asked Trotter to give them the unpaid invoices, Nation said.
Nation told Neill that the total shortfall for 2011 would be about $150,000. “Time is of the essence on funding to maintain whatever equipoise is left behind the gates at Litchfield Plantation,” Nation wrote in May.
Neill replied that he was “deeply concerned” that Nation was representing Trotter and the Litchfield Plantation Association while making demands on the Litchfield Plantation Co., for which Nation was still attorney of record. And Neill renewed his demands for company records.
Neill finally sought to subpoena those records. In a motion filed five days before property owners took their complaint about Trotter to the sheriff’s office, Nation sought to quosh the subpoenas and protect Trotter’s records from disclosure.
The records “contain sensitive information concerning financial assets owned by E. Scott Trotter and/or companies under his control,” Nation says.
One point Trotter and the new developer agree on is that the property owners board is invalid. Neill, in a filing in late May, asked the court to dismiss the complaint.