Convicted murderer and ex-attorney Alex Murdaugh facing federal charges of fraud, theft
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh is facing federal charges for the first time after being indicted on 22 financial fraud charges over allegations that the disgraced former attorney schemed to steal settlement money from clients.
The indictments unsealed Wednesday don't appear to reveal any new allegations against Murdaugh, a once prominent attorney in South Carolina who is serving a life sentence without parole for killing his wife and younger son. He is also awaiting trial on around 100 other state charges including insurance fraud, tax evasion and theft.
But Murdaugh's lawyers indicated he is talking with federal prosecutors and added this part of his legal difficulties may be resolved soon.
“Alex has been cooperating with the United States Attorneys’ Office and federal agencies in their investigation of a broad range of activities. We anticipate that the charges brought today will be quickly resolved without a trial," lawyers Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian said in a statement.
Murdaugh, 54, faces 14 counts of money laundering, five counts of wire fraud, one county of bank fraud, one county of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to the federal indictments unsealed Wednesday.
Each charge carries at least a maximum of 20 years in prison. Some have a maximum 30-year sentence.
Along with the indictments, federal prosecutors also announced that Murdaugh's longtime friend Cory Fleming — an old college roommate and godfather to one of his sons — would plead Thursday to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his part in helping Murdaugh steal money.
Murdaugh convinced the family of his longtime housekeeper who died after a fall at his home to use Fleming as their lawyer and then Fleming sued Murdaugh to get a wrongful death settlement that they didn't give to her sons.
Murdaugh kept most of the more than $3 million in settlement money for himself. but Fleming also got some of the cash and used it to pay his mortgage, credit card debt, tax payments and buy video games, according to state prosecutors who have already charged Fleming in the alleged scheme.
The family of the housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, didn't see any of the money until the relatives hired new lawyers who tracked down the stolen settlements and sued insurers and others.
Fleming, 54, faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced later. A trial on the state charges against him is scheduled for September.
The other allegations prosecutors detail in Murdaugh's federal indictments already have been revealed in state legal papers.
It said Murdaugh and a banker friend, Russell Laffitte, worked together to take settlement money out of client's accounts, prosecutors said. Laffitte was convicted in November of six wire and bank fraud charges.
Other federal indictments give detailed allegations of how Murdaugh created a bank account that had a similar name to a legitimate company that handled settlements to steal money from clients.
Murdaugh is currently in protective custody at an undisclosed state prison after being convicted in March of the shooting deaths of his 22-year-old son, Paul and 52-year-old wife, Maggie, at their home. Prosecutors said he decided to kill them because his millions of dollars of theft was about to be discovered and he was hoping their deaths would buy him sympathy and time to figure out a cover-up.
How long Griffin and Harpootlian can continue representing Murdaugh is also up in the air.
A judge recently denied a request from the attorneys to release an additional $160,000 from Murdaugh’s retirement account to pay for his appeal of his life sentence because the six-week murder trial exhausted the $600,000 they were initially given.
Murdaugh's legal woes extend to civil court, too. A judge ordered him to give a deposition in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a teenager who died when a boat driven by Paul Murdaugh crashed in 2019. Authorities said he was intoxicated and the teen's parents have sued Alex Murdaugh, the store that sold the beer and others.