Alex Murdaugh indicted on 22 federal counts for alleged financial schemes
By Dianne Gallagher, Devon M. Sayers and Dakin Andone, CNN
(CNN) — A federal grand jury has indicted disbarred South Carolina attorney and double murderer Alex Murdaugh on 22 charges in connection with schemes aimed at stealing money from his clients, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina.
The charges include conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering, the office said Wednesday, May 24, in a news release.
Murdaugh, 54, “has been cooperating with the United States Attorneys’ Office and federal agencies in their investigation of a broad range of activities,” his attorneys, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, said Wednesday in a statement.
“We anticipate that the charges brought today will be quickly resolved without a trial,” they said.
Murdaugh, a former personal injury attorney, is appealing his conviction this year in South Carolina for murdering his wife and grown son; he was sentenced to life in prison. He’s being held at McCormick Correctional Institution, a maximum-security South Carolina prison about 40 miles north of Augusta, Georgia.
“Trust in our legal system begins with trust in its lawyers,” US Attorney Adair Boroughs said of the alleged financial crimes. “South Carolinians turn to lawyers when they are at their most vulnerable, and in our state, those who abuse the public’s trust and enrich themselves by fraud, theft, and self-dealing will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Cory Fleming, a Murdaugh associate, has agreed to plead guilty in federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, pledging in exchange to work with state and federal prosecutors, according to a plea agreement. CNN has reached out to Fleming’s attorney for comment.
South Carolina prosecutors argued during his murder trial that Murdaugh killed his wife and son to distract from a variety of alleged financial crimes for which he now faces 101 charges in state court, including embezzlement, computer crimes, money laundering and conspiracy. In all, state prosecutors allege, Murdaugh bilked his law firm, clients and the government out of more than $9 million.
The state pointed to these crimes – which Murdaugh admitted to while on the stand – as evidence of his deceit, calling on members of his former law firm to testify about how they had started to uncover his lies and theft in the months before the murders.
“The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office and the State Law Enforcement Division have occupied a primary and central role in this investigation from inception, and no action by any other entity will have any effect on our goals to ensure significant accountability in state court for any criminal conduct,” Robert Kittle, a spokesperson for the state attorney general, said in a statement.
Kittle said Fleming’s trial will begin September 11 and they will prosecute Murdaugh when they can get a date scheduled.
Three alleged schemes, millions of dollars
The federal case stems from three different alleged schemes in which Murdaugh sought “to obtain money and property from his personal injury clients,” according to the US Attorney’s Office.
In one scheme dating to 2005, Murdaugh is accused of stealing settlement funds meant for his clients through a variety of methods, including by directing his law firm’s employees to draft disbursement sheets and sending that money to accounts he owned – without the approval of his clients or the firm – and by intercepting insurance payouts meant for beneficiaries.
The second alleged scheme involved Murdaugh directing firm employees to make checks for settlement funds payable to Palmetto State Bank, federal prosecutors said. Murdaugh then gave those checks to Russell Laffitte, the bank’s one-time chief executive, and told Laffitte to use those funds to pay off Murdaugh’s loans and personal expenses.
Laffitte is awaiting sentencing after being convicted last November on six charges.
Finally, the indictment alleges in the third scheme, Murdaugh created a bank account under the name “Forge” that was meant to masquerade as a real and legitimate corporation known as Forge Consulting, which the law firm partnered with to structure settlements, the US Attorney’s Office said. Murdaugh allegedly sent settlement checks to that account, defrauding his law firm by making it seem like the funds were going to the legitimate Forge Consulting.
The indictment also accuses Murdaugh of conspiring with a second attorney – unnamed in the indictment but known to be Fleming, a close friend of Murdaugh’s – to sue himself on behalf of the family of his former housekeeper, who died after a fall at the Murdaugh home in 2018. The indictment refers to the housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, by her initials.
At Murdaugh’s recommendation, the family hired Fleming to represent Satterfield’s estate.
When Murdaugh’s insurance paid out the claim for $505,000 and $3.8 million, the indictment says, Murdaugh and the second attorney allegedly conspired to take those funds. That included Fleming making the settlement checks payable to “Forge,” which Murdaugh then deposited into his fake Forge account.
Following news of the indictment, Eric Bland and Ronald Richter, attorneys for Satterfield’s family, said Wednesday was a “great day for justice in South Carolina.”
“While it is said that Lady Justice is blind, she is not a sucker,” they said in a statement. “Bottom Line – can’t run or hide from justice.”
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Editor’s note (May 31, 2023): Since this story was published, Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to the 22 charges. His attorney Jim Griffin told the judge May 31 they anticipate there could be a change of plea.