Alex Murdaugh, the South Carolina lawyer who has suffered a dramatic fall since his wife and son were shot in an unsolved murder in June, was arrested Thursday and charged with defrauding millions of dollars to the sons of his former cleaning lady.
Mr Murdaugh, 53, was taken into custody at a drug rehab center in Orlando, Fla., Charged with two counts of obtaining property under false pretenses, a felony punishable by punishment maximum of 10 years in prison. He was held in a jail in Orlando.
The charges stem from a settlement Mr Murdaugh and his insurers reached with the sons of the housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, who died in 2018 after stumbling upon the front steps of the Murdaugh family’s rural home in Islandton, SC. After his death, Mr Murdaugh referred his two sons to a lawyer he had promised to help them, the sons claimed in a recent lawsuit, but he did not disclose that the lawyer, Cory Fleming, was a close friend and a former college roommate.
Mr Fleming ultimately negotiated a settlement with Mr Murdaugh whereby Ms Satterfield’s sons, Tony Satterfield and Brian Harriott, would receive $ 2.8 million. But the sons said in their last trial that they were never told of the settlement and received no money. Instead, according to their lawsuit, Mr Murdaugh ordered Mr Fleming to send the money to him, apparently to set up a fund for Ms Satterfield’s adult sons. The money, according to the lawsuit, ended up in Mr. Murdaugh’s personal bank account.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division also opened an inquest into the circumstances of Ms Satterfield’s death after the coroner for Hampton County, South Carolina raised questions that her death had been attributed to natural causes, despite the fall, and that no autopsy was performed. Ms Satterfield suffered a brain hemorrhage and died in hospital several weeks after the fall.
Mr Fleming insisted he was unaware the money had not been passed on to the sons, but he admitted to making mistakes in handling the case. His law degree was suspended and his name was removed from his firm’s title.
The two lawyers who now represent Ms Satterfield’s sons Eric S. Bland and Ronnie Richter said Thursday it was a “bittersweet day” for the family.
Ms Satterfield’s relatives “face the betrayal of trust” and the fact “that the death of their loved one has been used as a vehicle to enrich others at the expense of clients,” the lawyers said.
The latest arrest is the second round of criminal charges against Mr Murdaugh, the descendant of a legal dynasty in the Lowcountry of South Carolina that dates back more than a century.
Last month, the law firm associated with Mr Murdaugh’s family, named PMPED after the initials of his partners, asked him to resign after reporting he had stolen millions of dollars from the firm and client.
On September 4, Mr. Murdaugh brought one of his cousins, Curtis Edward Smith, to the side of a road and demanded that Mr. Smith kill him so that his death would be considered murder rather than suicide. , according to the first round of criminal charges against him. Mr. Murdaugh acknowledged the attempt; his attorneys said he feared his eldest son, Richard “Buster” Murdaugh, could not collect his $ 10 million life insurance policy if his death was deemed to be suicide.
Mr. Murdaugh survived the shooting with a minor head injury. Mr Smith denied pulling the trigger, saying the gun exploded as he tried to stop Mr Murdaugh from shooting himself.
Mr. Murdaugh was charged in this case with insurance fraud and filing a false police report. Mr Smith was charged with attempting to help Mr Murdaugh kill himself along with other gun charges, which he has all denied.
Lawyers for Mr Murdaugh said in a statement he would be returned to South Carolina and likely appear before an investigating judge for a bail hearing on Friday.
“Alex intends to cooperate fully with this investigation, as he did with the investigation into the murder of his wife and son,” said lawyers, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin. “He deeply regrets that his actions have distracted attention from efforts to resolve their murders.”
The murders of Mr. Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, 52, and their youngest son, Paul, 22, remain unsolved. Both were shot dead and their bodies were discovered by Mr Murdaugh in June near the family kennel, next to their home.
At the time of his death, University of South Carolina student Paul Murdaugh was accused of crashing a drunken boat onto a bridge, killing one of his five passengers, Mallory Beach, who been thrown from the boat.
South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel said Thursday that Mr Murdaugh’s arrest was “just one more step in a long process of justice for the many victims of these surveys ”.
He said officers “will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of those who have fallen victim to Alex Murdaugh and others.”