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Alex Murdaugh Investigations: Lawyer Is Accused of Stealing Tens of millions From Former Companions and Shoppers

HAMPTON, S.C.—Disgraced South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh faces a number of challenges forward, however probably the most fast authorized menace issues insurance coverage fraud.

Alex Murdaugh is alleged to have stolen hundreds of thousands of {dollars} from former companions and purchasers, together with the sons of the household housekeeper who died at his dwelling, in keeping with new authorized filings.

The legislation agency of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick, which was based in 1910 by Mr. Murdaugh’s great-grandfather, stated Mr. Murdaugh for a number of years “submitted false documentation to the agency and to purchasers that allowed him to funnel stolen funds into fraudulent financial institution accounts.” The agency filed swimsuit in opposition to Mr. Murdaugh final week and requested a choose to pressure him to repay a number of insurance coverage settlements meant for his purchasers.

The agency has been trying into at the very least 15 accounts which will have been affected, in keeping with an individual conversant in the agency’s inside investigation. The South Carolina Regulation Enforcement Division has stated it’s conducting a legal inquiry into the lacking cash, and Chief Mark Keel just lately stated that SLED is looking on federal investigators for his or her help with different potential crimes.

Mr. Murdaugh and his legal professionals beforehand acknowledged in court docket that he misappropriated some shopper cash to assist a long-running dependancy to opioids. In a press release, Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyer Jim Griffin described the lawsuit as “a really unhappy improvement.”

“Alex holds each member of the [firm] in very excessive esteem. He has pledged his full cooperation to the agency,” he stated.

The Murdaugh agency is among the most storied within the Southeast, famend for its work on huge private harm and wrongful loss of life circumstances, significantly these involving railroads and tire producers.

Firms hesitate to strive circumstances on the Murdaughs’ dwelling turf of Hampton County, S.C., due to the legislation agency’s historical past of netting outsize jury awards on this group of 20,000 folks. The agency’s imposing red-brick headquarters in tiny downtown Hampton is known as “the home that CSX constructed” in reference to its circumstances in opposition to the railroad.

The Murdaugh household can be influential within the legal justice system as a result of along with working the legislation agency, the Murdaughs ran the solicitor, or district legal professional’s workplace, for a five-county area from 1920 to 2006. Mr. Murdaugh served till just lately as a volunteer prosecutor, a perch which gave him uncommon entry to judges and legislation enforcement.

The Murdaugh household dynasty unraveled over the course of the summer season. On June 7, Mr. Murdaugh’s spouse Maggie Murdaugh and their youthful son had been discovered fatally shot at Moselle, the household’s searching property. Investigators haven’t arrested anybody however have stated there isn’t a hazard to the general public.

Two weeks later, based mostly on info gathered within the double-homicide investigation, SLED reopened an investigation into the 2015 loss of life of Stephen Smith, a former classmate of Alex Murdaugh’s older son, Buster. SLED additionally opened an investigation into the 2018 loss of life of Gloria Satterfield, the Murdaughs’ housekeeper. In civil court docket, Mr. Murdaugh is being sued by the household of Mallory Seaside, a 19-year-old girl who was killed in a 2019 crash involving a ship pushed by Mr. Murdaugh’s youthful son, Paul Murdaugh.

Mr. Murdaugh stated the double murder of his spouse and son “induced an extremely troublesome time in my life. I’ve made loads of choices that I really remorse.” His lawyer stated he had no involvement of their deaths. Mr. Murdaugh has declined to touch upon the Satterfield and Smith investigations. Relating to Ms. Seaside, he has stated in court docket filings that the crash concerned a ship he owned however he shouldn’t be held chargeable for her loss of life. Buster Murdaugh declined to remark, by way of a household spokeswoman.

On Sept. 4, Mr. Murdaugh tried to rearrange his personal homicide by hiring an confederate to shoot him, in what his legal professionals later stated in court docket was an episode prompted by the stress of shedding his job, grief over the lack of his spouse and son and a haze as he tried to wean himself off opioids. Additionally they stated the tried assisted suicide was meant to safe a $10 million life insurance coverage fee for his surviving son, Buster.

Mr. Murdaugh is out on bond on costs of fraud associated to the tried assisted suicide and is in a Georgia drug-rehabilitation facility, his legal professionals have stated.

The agency stated in its lawsuit that it uncovered proof of insurance coverage fraud simply earlier than that assisted suicide try. On Sept. 2, Mr. Murdaugh’s colleagues discovered a verify on his desk from one other legislation agency for charges from a joint case. Among the charges had been owed to the legislation agency, to not Mr. Murdaugh, however the verify was made payable to Mr. Murdaugh and “had been deposited into a private account,” in keeping with the lawsuit.

Members of the agency confronted Mr. Murdaugh and compelled his resignation the following day, Sept. 3, in keeping with the lawsuit.

His former companions say in a lawsuit that Mr. Murdaugh deceived them and his purchasers by misusing structured settlements, generally used when the beneficiary in a lawsuit is a minor or is incapacitated ultimately. Structured settlements are preparations wherein the sum is positioned into an account and accrues curiosity. Moderately than a typical settlement, wherein a lump sum is paid out up entrance, structured settlements pay out set quantities frequently and supply tax advantages for the beneficiary.

Mr. Murdaugh’s former companions additionally allege he misappropriated agency cash through the use of a equally structured payout methodology for attorneys’ charges, usually utilized by trial legal professionals to easy their revenue over time fairly than take a giant payment in a single swoop.

Mr. Murdaugh created a private account known as “Alexander Murdaugh d/b/a Forge,” to imitate a well known dealer of structured settlements known as Forge Consulting LLC, his former companions say within the swimsuit. Forge is predicated in Atlanta and has an workplace in Columbia, S.C., and works incessantly with plaintiffs’ attorneys just like the Murdaugh agency. Forge additionally works with agency legal professionals on structured attorneys’ charges, in keeping with the lawsuit.

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Forge founder and Chief Government Spooner Phillips and Columbia principal Michael Gunn stated they had been blindsided by the “inappropriate checking account that included ‘Forge’ in its identify.”

“After we realized of the attainable existence of such an account, legislation enforcement officers had been instantly contacted—together with others who’re investigating—to supply our help,” they stated in a press release. Mr. Gunn, a lobbyist for the South Carolina trial legal professionals’ affiliation, labored intently for a few years with Mr. Murdaugh, a former affiliation president.

The inner and legal investigations involving Mr. Murdaugh’s actions have induced turmoil inside the legislation agency, whose legal professionals embody Mr. Murdaugh’s older brother Randolph Murdaugh IV. The agency has stated it’s working intently to establish affected purchasers and stated no shopper “will undergo a monetary loss on account of Alex’s misconduct.”

Essentially the most vital chunk of lacking cash is a $4.3 million wrongful-death settlement meant for the sons of Ms. Satterfield, in keeping with the particular person conversant in the inner investigation. Her grownup sons stated in a lawsuit that after their mom died in February 2018 from a trip-and-fall accident on the Murdaugh dwelling, Mr. Murdaugh inspired them to sue him so they may get a settlement from his insurers. They are saying within the lawsuit they by no means acquired any cash, “not one dime.”

Cory Fleming, a Beaufort, S.C., lawyer who represented the Satterfield sons within the negotiations with insurers, issued a public apology final week and stated he was duped by Mr. Murdaugh, an in depth pal and onetime school roommate. “Mr. Fleming maintains he was not a prepared participant in Mr. Murdaugh’s scheme however was used,” in keeping with the assertion.

The South Carolina Supreme Court docket suspended Mr. Fleming’s legislation license on Friday. The court docket suspended Mr. Murdaugh’s license final month.

Eric Bland, the lawyer now representing the Satterfield sons, stated he was glad the court docket “acted with swiftness and certainty” in suspending Mr. Fleming. He stated Mr. Fleming has repaid the authorized charges and bills he was paid within the settlement and his malpractice insurer has paid out the boundaries of their coverage. That totaled nicely over $1 million, in keeping with folks conversant in the settlement phrases.

“You bought 5 lifeless our bodies in six years with this household, and that’s a lifetime for a village, not to mention a household,” Mr. Bland stated. “However keep in mind, Al Capone didn’t go away for homicide, he went away for tax evasion.”

Mysteries in South Carolina

Extra WSJ protection of Alex Murdaugh and his household, chosen by the editors

Write to Valerie Bauerlein at [email protected]

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