SC state representative forged client’s signature, stole client funds, lawsuit alleges

A new lawsuit accuses South Carolina state representative and practicing lawyer Marvin Pendarvis of faking a client’s signature in order to secure a settlement for a amount far smaller than was promised.

When the alleged duplicity was discovered, Pendarvis used funds from his law firm’s trust account to try to pay off his client, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Charleston by attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter on behalf of Adrian Lewis, Pendarvis’ former client. It accuses Pendarvis of legal malpractice and of committing “unfair and deceptive practices” under the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act.

“Nothing fuels us more than when an attorney betrays the attorney-client relationship and exploits a client,” Bland said at a news conference Thursday. He accused Pendarvis of heaping stigma on the legal profession in South Carolina. In addition to the lawsuit, the attorneys had filed complaints against Pendarvis with the state ethics commission and the South Carolina Bar Association.

Bland and Richter were prominent players in the Alex Murdaugh saga, representing a number of victims of the disbarred lawyer’s financial crimes. Murdaugh also was convicted of murdering his wife, Maggie, and son Paul.

Marvin Pendarvis is the state representative for District 113, covering parts of North Charleston and Summerville.
Marvin Pendarvis is the state representative for District 113, covering parts of North Charleston and Summerville.

Reached Thursday, Pendarvis told The State Media Co. that he did not have a comment as he had not read the full lawsuit and only found out about it Thursday morning.

“All of this has caught me off guard, “ said Pendarvis, D-Charleston. The four-term state representative has a law practice, Pendarvis Law LLC, in North Charleston.

Lewis originally hired Pendarvis in 2021 to represent him in a lawsuit against the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Department after Lewis was “unlawfully arrested” by sheriff’s deputies. Lewis said that the mother of his then 6-year-old daughter falsely told deputies that she had an order of protection against him, leading to his arrest after he took his daughter to the beach at Isle of Palms, according to the lawsuit.

When Pendarvis took the case, he told Lewis that he believed it would be worth “up to $325,000,” according to the lawsuit. In April 2023, efforts at mediation failed and the case was scheduled for trial that November. But the trial never went ahead.

Confused, short of money, facing foreclosure and unemployed after his arrest, Lewis kept reaching out to Pendarvis, trying to work out when the trial might be, the lawsuit says.

But the lawsuit alleges that “Pendarvis largely ghosted Adrian, did not return his calls or answer his inquiries... and the few times he did reply to Adrian’s inquiries, Pendarvis gave Adrian misleading information about the status of his case.”

That December, Pendarvis sent Lewis two checks, one for $5,000 and another for $1,666.67, drawn from his IOLTA account — a type of trust account attorneys use to hold client funds. The checks were simply marked “disbursement,”and while Pendarvis allegedly did not tell Lewis what the checks were for, he promised Lewis that he “had a lot more money coming.”

“In hindsight, it now appears that the two checks Pendarvis issued to Adrian totaling $6,666.67 were written to create the appearance that Adrian had been paid 66% of the gross settlement of $10,000.00 per his fee agreement,” Lewis’ attorneys wrote in the complaint.

A lawsuit filed by the Bland Richter law firm accuses state representative Marvin Pendarvis of using other client funds drawn from his trust account to pay off client Adrian Lewis.
A lawsuit filed by the Bland Richter law firm accuses state representative Marvin Pendarvis of using other client funds drawn from his trust account to pay off client Adrian Lewis.

But the deception fell apart when Lewis fired Pendarvis and reached out to the attorney representing the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Department about his case, the lawsuit said. The sheriff’s department’s attorney told him that Pendarvis had settled the case he once allegedly estimated at up to $325,000 for just $10,000.

The release form authorizing the settlement allegedly includes a forgery of Lewis’ signature, along with witness signatures from Pendarvis and another individual, the lawsuit said. A Notary Public who shares an office with Pendarvis affirmed that she had witnessed the signature, according to the lawsuit.

When Lewis discovered this, he confront Pendarvis. Over text, Pendarvis asked “how much you need the check for?” Asking Lewis to call him, Pendarvis wrote in a series of texts “you’re not telling me what you need,” “I’ve always come thru for you on anything you need man.” “Let’s handle this s---. No need to try and hurt me man. I can help you.”

In later texts, the lawyer appeared to admit that something had gone wrong.

“That shouldn’t have happened. I was holding out for more more,” Penvardis wrote in a text. “We’ll make this right and you’ll get your money and some. Even if I gotta do it myself.”

Attorneys for Adrian Lewis alleged that his signature was faked on a document authorizing a settlement in his lawsuit against the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office.
Attorneys for Adrian Lewis alleged that his signature was faked on a document authorizing a settlement in his lawsuit against the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office.

On April 2, Pendarvis allegedly showed up at Lewis’ house at 8:30 a.m. with a “black bag” that he said contained $50,000 in cash. Pendarvis allegedly said that he could give Lewis another $25,000 and could write a check to “pay for your mortgage” if Adrian would “not sue Pendarvis, according to the lawsuit.

“You can’t pay a client in cash. There has to be a trail, and you don’t pay a client from your operating account or from any other checking account. The client gets their money from a trust account,” Bland said.

But just two days later, Pendarvis gave Lewis another check drawn from his IOLTA account and post-dated to April 9, this one in the amount of $15,000.

“It appears that Mr. Pendarvis attempted to use other people’s money to pacify Mr. Lewis,” Bland said. “It’s troubling, that’s all I can say.”

Pendarvis took office in 2017 after winning a special election in District 113 in Charleston. He took office just three years after graduating from University of South Carolina Law School in 2014. He received his undergraduate degree from USC in 2011.

He is currently unopposed in this year’s election.