Over the past several weeks, there has been a lot of news and rumors circulating regarding the Irish Travelers and those associated with Murphy Village located off Edgefield Road in North Augusta.
While some of the news has been positive for the future of the more than 20 local Irish Travelers who have pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to commit racketeering, another local businessman with ties to the Travelers faces potentially serious charges relating to a murder-for-hire plot in Texas.
Let’s start with the more positive news for the Travelers.
Just this week, the Augusta Chronicle’s James Folker reported that the federal government has lightened the sentences of a few Travelers charged with racketeering after they agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
One of the Travelers got a six-month prison term; another got only probation, and a third woman with mental health issues received a 36-month home confinement sentence, according to Folker’s July 23 story.
“The most cooperative defendant throughout the investigation has been Mary ‘Chantina’ Sherlock,” Assistant U.S. Attorney James May told the federal court judge this week, according to Folker’s article. “Several defendants have cooperated against their husbands, but Sherlock cooperated ‘infinitely further than anyone else,’ agreeing to testify against ‘a long list’ of others, including her husband, mother-in-law and father-in-law, among others.”
May recommended a “non-custodial” sentence, but the judge gave Mary “Chantina” Sherlock 36 months’ probation, according to the Augusta Chronicle.
It’s nearly impossible to imagine that Mary “Chantina” Sherlock will return to Murphy Village and be embraced by the community considering her cooperation with the federal government, but only time will tell.
Now, for the more troubling news coming out of North Augusta.
Earlier this month, former insurance agent Charles Mercier of North Augusta was arraigned in a federal courtroom in Columbia on charges linked to a $1 million murder-for-hire scheme in Texas.
Just last year, the Metro Spirit detailed the case of an Irish Traveler in Fort Worth, Texas, pleading guilty to conspiring to murder a 69-year-old housekeeper.
Bernard “Little Joe” Gorman, 28, along with his father, was accused of “stalking and killing” the older woman, Anita Fox, in 2014 with the intent of collecting on a $1 million insurance policy on her.
The father and son team brutally stabbed Anita Fox, who apparently identified herself as an “English Traveler.”
The father, Gerard “Big Joe” Gorman, reportedly died of suspected natural causes in Houston before he could be arrested in the case.
Meanwhile, the FBI attempted to seize $5 million in life insurance benefits from policies that investigators claimed were fraudulently obtained for Fox.
So, what does this have to do with the Irish Travelers in Murphy Village?
According to a probable cause affidavit by FBI Special Agent Ronald Grosse, the FBI agent specifically discussed the insurance fraud investigation that had been ongoing in North Augusta since July 2014.
“Travelers have been known to be involved in life insurance scams in the past,” Grosse wrote. “These scams typically involve lying on the policy applications about income, net worth, health, identifying information, and whether other policies have been issued.”
After reviewing the insurance records further, the FBI investigation revealed that the North Augusta businessman, Mercier, had a connection to the Texas case.
“Charles Mercier, an insurance agent whose family writes life insurance policies almost exclusively for Travelers, had written five policies on Anita Fox in 2007 and 2008,” according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
In July 2013, one of the $1 million policies was changed to make Pat Gorman, an Irish Traveler who resided in Virginia, a co-owner of the policy and the new beneficiary.
However, Texas police believe that Pat Gorman, “Big Joe” Gorman and two other relatives of Fox all paid a portion of the policy’s premiums with plans to eventually split the cash, according to the Star-Telegram.
But the temptation of the $1 million life insurance policy eventually led the father-and-son team of Gormans to kill Anita Fox.
Bernard “Little Joe” Gorman, who police believe drove the getaway car, pleaded guilty to a lesser count of conspiracy to commit murder, a second-degree felony, according to the Star-Telegram.
In February 2017, a state district judge in Texas sentenced Gorman to 14 years in prison, which was a part of his plea deal.
Family members of Anita Fox struggled to contain their anger during the court hearing.
“I’m not going to share my memories of my mom with you,” Anita Fox’s son, Al Fox III, reportedly told Gorman in the Fort Worth courtroom. “I’m here to welcome you to your hell.”
Now, it’s Mercier’s turn to face the music.
The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., has reported that Mercier
was arraigned along with two other Travelers in a federal courtroom on charges they “fraudulently obtained life insurance policies on an elderly Texas woman who was later killed for the insurance payout.”
“This originated out of the investigation in Murphy Village,” assistant U.S. Attorney Jim May reportedly told Magistrate Judge Paige Gossett in early July.
So far, some 50 Irish Travelers and associates have been convicted of financial crimes in that probe, May reportedly said.
“If Tuesday’s murder-related charges hold up in court, however, that would represent a significant leap into violence by at least some Travelers or their associates,” The State reported. “Travelers have been convicted of numerous serious white-collar crimes so far, but none involved killing other people.”
Just this week, WRDW News 12 obtained tapes of investigators interviewing Mercier, the former North Augusta insurance salesman.
Investigators with the Texas Department of Insurance are heard asking Mercier on the recording, “Did Anita Fox know that this policy was being sold to a perfect stranger?”
Mercier comments, “These people all over the country take polices out on their moms and dads.”
Mercier said he sold the life insurance polices on Fox to her son-in-law and daughter, Mark and Virginia Buckland, but the premiums became too expensive for the Bucklands.
That’s when Irish Traveler Pat Gorman of Virginia entered the picture.
An affidavit shows Mercier allegedly lied to get Pat Gorman on the insurance policy, according to News 12.
But Mercier told News 12’s Liz Owens that he had no idea what the Gormans were planning regarding the murder of Fox.
“I didn’t have a clue,” Mercier told Owens. “I did not.”
Mercier will soon have his day in court.