NORTH AUGUSTA — A man associated with the purchase of property for the proposed Scuttle’s Island water park on Edgefield Road in North Augusta pleaded guilty 13 months ago to multiple fraud-related counts in which victims were swindled out of thousands of dollars in paving projects, according to court and property records.
John William Burke, 57, of North Augusta, pleaded guilty in April 2015 to six counts of home improvement fraud and 11 counts of theft by deception, Bedford County, Pennsylvania, court records state.
The charges were classified in court records as misdemeanors, which documents state had been downgraded from felonies as part of a plea agreement.
Burke was sentenced to 1 year of probation, fined $20,000 and ordered to pay $78,700 in restitution to 14 victims, according to Pennsylvania court records.
As a special condition, Burke also was ordered to not perform any home improvement or contracting work within the state of Pennsylvania, court records show.
Burke’s address was listed as 1303 Edgefield Road, North Augusta, according to a report Pennsylvania State Police filed in Bedford County on Sept. 9, 2014.
Aiken County property records currently list Burke’s address as 130 Mim Woodring Drive, though a deed to that property dated Nov. 20, 2012, lists Burke’s previous address as 1303 Edgefield Road in North Augusta.
Both addresses are in the vicinity of Murphy Village.
130 Mim Woodring Drive also is the address provided in Aiken County mortgage documents filed in association with the purchase of 75.44 acres off Edgefield Road previously identified as the site for the proposed Scuttle’s Island water park project.
Filed under the corporate name “1SoCar Investments LLC,” the document says 1SoCar mortgaged with B and H Land Co. for $700,000. John Burke is listed in the document as a managing member of 1SoCar.
B and H Land Co. sold the 75.44-acre parcel to 1SoCar Investments for $2.2 million, according to a deed filed March 31.
The water park property is also located in the vicinity of Murphy Village.
Harry Miller, who’s listed in S.C. Secretary of State filings as an organizer of B and H Land Co., would not comment on the sale when contacted Tuesday.
1SoCar Investments is not registered with the S.C. Secretary of State, said agency spokeswoman Renee Daggerhart.
Daggerhart said it is not illegal for LLCs to operate in South Carolina without registering.
“Typically, if an entity has a physical site in S.C., property in S.C., or employees in S.C., then yes, they should register with the Secretary of State’s Office,” she said. “But there is no penalty if they do not register with our office.”
Scuttle’s Island was scheduled to open in May 2016, according to the water park’s website.
But no official groundbreaking had taken place as of May 18. Only preliminary documents have been filed with the City of North Augusta, said City Administrator Todd Glover.
Additional planning documents would need to be filed before Scuttle’s Island can move forward, Glover said.
The Scuttle’s Island property is a short drive from I-20 and Exit 5.
The Aiken Standard sought comment via email from Andrew Thompson, a partner and spokesman for the Scuttle’s Island project, but had not received a response as of press time.
According to Pennsylvania police and court records, Burke was charged in September 2014 with more than a dozen fraud-related counts.
Pennsylvania State Police said in a criminal complaint obtained by the Aiken Standard that the suspect charged several area residents inflated prices to pave their driveways.
Burke was booked at a Bedford County jail. Bond was set at $500,000 and he was released a few days later, court records show.
Sentencing took place April 15, 2015, according to Pennsylvania court documents.
William “Bill” Higgins, district attorney for Bedford County, confirmed Wednesday that Burke has successfully completed his probation.
Higgins also confirmed that Burke paid his fines and made full restitution to all 14 victims named in court records. The restitution amounts ranged from $750 to $12,500.
Pennsylvania state police records state investigators became involved after discrepancies arose when the suspect tried to cash two checks at two branches of the same Bedford County bank.
At one bank, the suspect provided Michigan identification, a Social Security number and a date of birth of Jan. 2, 1960, the criminal complaint said.
While at a second bank, the suspect provided a Texas ID, a different Social Security number and a date of birth of Jan. 1, 1959, according to the report.
Police later learned, the report said, that the suspect had at least two other Social Security numbers.
The report goes on to say police made contact with multiple victims who said the suspect offered to perform driveway work.
In one instance, an elderly woman with extensive medical problems, said a man identified in the report as Burke showed up unannounced, offering to perform paving work for $6,000. After the work was completed, Burke showed up the next day telling her she owed an additional $6,000 for the work on the driveway, double the previously agreed upon price.
The report said the suspect showed up to two other residences wearing a Jesus T-shirt, offered to pave the homeowners’ driveways, and then charged inflated amounts.
During one job, when the homeowner said he couldn’t pay a $12,000 bill, the suspect “began to wimper [sic] and act like a child and kept saying that he isn’t going to be able to pay his bills and his men he has working for him.”
Another victim said the suspect “roared into her driveway” and “pressured her a lot,” stating that “I’m going to dump this shale in your driveway regardless of whether you get yours done so I can do your neighbor’s driveway with the shale so you might as well have yours done also,” according to the report. She went to the bank and took out a loan to pay Burke the $3,500.
The report said Burke gave victims flyers under the names of “Chip and Seal Paving” and “Kerr County Paving.”
According to a website for Chip and Seal Paving, the company’s history dates back to 1951, when the website says Don Burke Sr. did business as Kerr County Paving, and that the business performed work in Detroit, Michigan and Kerrville, Texas.
The website says the company serves “the state of Tennessee and immediate surrounding areas in neighboring states.”
John Burke’s property at 130 Mim Woodring Drive in North Augusta was deeded to him by his brother Donald Burke, according to property records filed with the Aiken County Register of Mesne Conveyance.
That deed also lists 1303 Edgefield Drive, the address listed in the Pennsylvania criminal complaint, as John Burke’s former address.
Michael Smith is Executive Editor of the Aiken Standard.