Melvin Roberts supported girlfriend Julia Phillips financially for years, and prosecutors claim her theft from the man who bankrolled her store and lifestyle is a possible motive in his killing.
Gaffney Municipal Judge Kaye Allison found Wednesday there is probable cause, sending breach-of-trust charges that Phillips, 66, stole from Roberts' company to a grand jury.
The fraud-related charges against Phillips stem from allegations she stole rent money from Roberts, 79, before he was found strangled to death outside his York residence on Feb. 4.
Phillips was charged with Roberts' murder on May 18. After her release from jail in York County on bond in June, she was charged with breach of trust in the fraud case.
Prosecutors have claimed Phillips knew Roberts was leaving her, and that she had every reason to believe he would write her out of his will. Roberts, an attorney and former York mayor, owned the building where her consignment business was located - a building Phillips stood to inherit after Roberts' death, according to Roberts' will. The building is worth at least $150,000.
Gaffney Police Detective Jonathan Blackwell said in the preliminary hearing that investigators found a pattern where Phillips collected rent from tenants in buildings Roberts owned, wrote receipts, but did not deposit rents with Roberts Realty, a York-based company.
The breach-of-trust charge stems from one apartment in Roberts Apartments in downtown Gaffney. Police found evidence that five months worth of rent, dating back to last fall, was paid in cash from a tenant of which the realty company had no record, Blackwell said.
Phillips was in charge of finding tenants for the apartment complex and collecting rent, Blackwell said. However, she was not paid as an employee of the company.
"She was collecting for Roberts Realty," said 7th Circuit Asst. Solicitor Michael Morin. "We know the money is going from tenant to Julia, and then it's going away. She has a responsibility to transfer that to the company."
Those payments were made in cash, at $400 apiece. Roberts Realty never saw any of that money, Blackwell said.
"The tenant gave a statement that he tried to pay with a check, and she said 'no,'" Blackwell said. "She only wanted cash."
Laura Hiller, an attorney representing Phillips from the Frederick Law Office, said Roberts allowed Phillips to rent the apartment to a family friend for less money than other apartments because "he was a drug addict who needed to get back on his feet," she said.
Hiller also said Roberts paid Phillips regularly as part of their relationship, and he could have allowed her to keep the rent money to pay for medical bills.
Blackwell said their investigation also showed rent money paid by a barber shop in a Roberts-owned building was not deposited with Roberts' realty company.
The barber told police he received notice he was behind on his rent, but he went to Roberts Realty with receipts he received from Phillips, Blackwell said. The owner was then advised to make payments directly to the York office, Blackwell said.
Phillips did not attend Wednesday's hearing.
A preliminary hearing in her murder case has not been scheduled, 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said Wednesday.
Sued by her stepdaughters
Phillips is also being sued in probate court. Her stepdaughters claim she violated the terms of their father's will by living with Roberts. They want her out of the Overbrook Drive house in Gaffney their late father's will allows her to live in until she dies or remarries.
They also allege Phillips and her son damaged the house, that items were taken from the home, and that there had been illegal activity at the house, according to their testimony and court documents.
Phillips filed a countersuit against her stepdaughters in July, alleging the eviction efforts are motivated by "unadulterated financial gain." That lawsuit seeks to remove daughters as trustees of Bryant Phillips' estate. Bryant Phillips died in 1999.
The stepdaughters deny the countersuit allegations, according to court documents filed by their attorney this week.
After Phillips' arrests, Cherokee County Coroner Dennis Fowler exhumed the body of her former husband. Fowler said he is waiting for results from toxicology tests.