CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM
Citation332 S.C. 6,503 S.E.2d 731
PartiesIn the Matter of Richard C. BELL, Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. 24817.,24817.
Decision Date20 July 1998

332 S.C. 6
503 S.E.2d 731

In the Matter of Richard C. BELL, Respondent

No. 24817.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard June 3, 1998.

Decided July 20, 1998.

Attorney General Charles M. Condon and Senior Assistant Attorney General Nathan Kaminski, Jr., Columbia, for complainant.

Desa A. Ballard, West Columbia, for respondent.


In this attorney grievance matter, Richard C. Bell ("Respondent") is charged with engaging in misconduct in violation

332 S.C. 7
of various provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 407, SCACR, and the Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement, Rule 413, SCACR


Respondent's alleged misconduct relates to two separate matters:

1. Forgery/Property Tax Matter

In 1989-90, Respondent, through Mulberry Properties, Inc., acquired the sole ownership interest in a condominium real estate venture known as Mulberry Place, located in Charleston County. The development loan and subsequent financing for the real estate venture were provided by Newberry Federal Savings Bank ("Bank"). While Mulberry Place had been in development, a previous developer had contested the 1989 tax assessment on the property. In June 1990, Respondent pursued this dispute with the Charleston County Tax Assessor's Office.

In October 1990, Bank extended a loan to Respondent in the principal sum of $165,000. The purpose of this loan, as indicated in the commitment letter, was to make necessary repairs to the project, to make current the 1988 and 1989 property taxes (which had not been paid), and to maintain funds to use for mortgage payments until the occupancy rate was raised.

A mortgage, dated October 31, 1990, from Mulberry Properties, Inc. was executed by Respondent to secure the $165,000 loan. On the same date, the closing attorney issued an opinion letter stating that Bank had "valid first, second and third mortgages on the property and their liens are paramount except for 1988 and 1989 property taxes which are past due and 1990 taxes which are a lien, though not yet due and payable, and all taxes subsequent thereto." Based on this title opinion, Bank obtained copies of the property tax execution notices and calculated the total amount of 1988 and 1989 taxes to be $31,656.

On or about November 9, 1990, Bank issued to Respondent a check in the amount of $31,656 from the $165,000 loan amount. The check was made payable to Respondent and to

332 S.C. 8
J. Al Cannon, Jr., Charleston County Sheriff, who was the delinquent tax collector. This check represented the exact amount due on the 1988 and 1989 taxes. The voucher slip attached to the check stated that it was payment for the 1988 and 1989 delinquent taxes on Mulberry Place, Inc

Respondent received the check. He signed his own name and also signed on the back of the check the name of Sheriff Cannon. This was done without the sheriffs knowledge, permission, or consent. Respondent deposited this check into the Mulberry Place operating account at Lowcountry Savings Bank ("Lowcountry Bank"). Respondent did not pay any of the Mulberry Property taxes, nor did he notify Bank of his failure to do so.

Respondent's check stubs for the Lowcountry Bank Mulberry Place operating account show a check number 136, dated November 13, 1990, issued to "J. Al Cannon, Jr., County Sheriff, Mulberry Taxes," in the amount of $31,656. Check number 136 was not received or processed by the Delinquent Tax Department of the Charleston County Sheriffs Office. Respondent claimed that he took the check to the tax office and tried to pay the 1990 taxes instead of the 1988-89 taxes; however, officials would not accept the payment. The check never cleared through Respondent's Lowcountry Bank Mulberry Place operating account. Respondent testified that he returned check number 136 to the checkbook, but it was subsequently misplaced. However, the check stub was never marked "void," and the check stubs continued to reflect a balance as if the $31,656 check had cleared the account, although the monthly bank statements showed that it had not.1

In December 1990, Respondent asked that a portion of the funds comprising the $165,000 loan not yet disbursed by Bank be applied to the November mortgage payments then due for the Mulberry project. Respondent agreed that he would be responsible for financing the pending repairs to the project apartment units and would complete them. On December 6, 1990, Respondent signed a document, which stated in part,

332 S.C. 9
"According to our original agreement, funds were used to pay all accounts current and any pending property taxes due."

Because the Mulberry Place property taxes were not paid, the property was sold for taxes in 1992. Later in the year, Respondent's attempts to reduce the taxes on the 1989 assessment were finally successful. The Tax Assessor reduced the 1989 taxes by over $28,000. On March 8, 1993, Respondent advised Bank that the Mulberry Place property had been sold for taxes and had to be redeemed no later than July 1993. A Vice President at Bank contacted Respondent on or about April 12, 1993 and asked him why the Charleston County tax collector had never received Bank's 1990 check. On May 7, 1993, Respondent informed Bank that he had taken care of the 1989 delinquent taxes for Mulberry, but he could not pay any other delinquent taxes. Bank sent a check to the Charleston County tax collector in the amount of $75,961 to pay the 1988, 1990, and 1991 property taxes due. Title to all of the apartment units owned by Mulberry Properties,...

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1 practice notes
  • IN RE BELL, 25533.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • October 14, 2002
    ...30, Rule 413, SCACR. DEFINITE SUSPENSION. TOAL, C.J., MOORE, WALLER, BURNETT, and PLEICONES, JJ., concur. -------- Notes: 1. In re Bell, 332 S.C. 6, 503 S.E.2d 731...
1 cases
  • IN RE BELL, 25533.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • October 14, 2002
    ...30, Rule 413, SCACR. DEFINITE SUSPENSION. TOAL, C.J., MOORE, WALLER, BURNETT, and PLEICONES, JJ., concur. -------- Notes: 1. In re Bell, 332 S.C. 6, 503 S.E.2d 731...

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