HAMPTON, S.C. — Warrants released on Saturday detail how South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh “coordinated” a death settlement for the family of his housekeeper and kept more than $3 million for himself.
Murdaugh, 53, of Hampton, is accused of misappropriating funds stemming from the death of Gloria Harriott Satterfield, the Murdaugh family’s longtime housekeeper and nanny. Satterfield, 57, died in February 2018 following a fall at the Murdaugh home.
The fall took place on the same property where Murdaugh’s wife and younger son were found gunned down June 7 of this year. No arrests have been made in the murders, and authorities and Murdaugh’s own attorney have said he is a person of interest in his family’s killings.
Murdaugh was arrested late last week in Florida, where he had been receiving treatment for opioid addiction. He is charged with two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses.
He was extradited to South Carolina over the weekend.
A fatal accident
Affidavits released on Saturday and obtained by WCBD in Mount Pleasant detail the allegations against Murdaugh, who has had his law license suspended indefinitely.
The court records state that Satterfield, who worked for the Murdaughs for more than 20 years, fell and struck her head Feb. 2, 2018, at the family’s Islandton hunting lodge. She later suffered a stroke.
Satterfield went into cardiac arrest and died Feb. 26.
Murdaugh told Satterfield’s sons they should sue him for wrongful death, according to the documents. He offered up the name of an attorney, Cory Fleming, to represent the family.
The Satterfields later found out that Fleming and Murdaugh are close friends.
The friends then recruited a third man, Chad Westendorf of Palmetto State Bank, to represent Satterfield’s estate, WCBD reported.
According to the affidavits, Fleming brokered an initial insurance settlement with Murdaugh’s insurance company, Lloyds of London. The Satterfield brothers were never told of that $505,000 settlement.
In January 2019, Fleming wrote a check from his law firm in the amount of $403,500, paid out to a company called “Forge.”
There is a Forge Consulting LLC that handles insurance settlements, but that company has no affiliation with Murdaugh or Fleming, and it was not involved in the Satterfield settlement, the affidavits state.
Meanwhile, Murdaugh opened a bank account with that same name, into which the settlement money went.
“Mr. Murdaugh titled the account ‘Forge’ as a misrepresentation in order to facilitate and conceal his misappropriation of funds,” the records allege.
Four months later, on May 13, 2019, Fleming brokered an additional settlement that brought the total amount to $4.3 million.
“A settlement agreement stipulated that $2,765,000 was designated for the Satterfield family,” the affidavits state. “The Satterfield family were never notified of the settlements nor received any profits from them.”
In addition, the settlement agreement was not properly filed in court, according to authorities.
Murdaugh had Fleming write a check for more than $2.9 million, which Murdaugh then deposited into his own “Forge” account, authorities allege.
As of Monday morning, Murdaugh was being held in the Richland County Jail.
It is unclear if Fleming or Westendorf will face charges in the case.
The criminal charges in the Satterfield case are the latest twist in the downfall of Murdaugh, whose family has held legal sway in South Carolina for more than 100 years. The family law firm, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick, was founded in 1910 by his great-grandfather.
Randolph Murdaugh Sr. was also the first person elected solicitor, or prosecutor, for the 14th District. Murdaughs held the position until 2005, when Randolph Murdaugh III retired.
Besides his work as a personal injury lawyer, Alex Murdaugh worked as a part-time prosecutor in that same office. He has resigned from both the law firm and his post as a prosecutor.
Murdaugh’s arrest last week was his second in less than a month. He turned himself in Sept. 16 on allegations that he had hired a former law client to shoot him in the head and kill him so Murdaugh’s surviving son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy.
The bullet grazed his head instead, authorities said. According to hospital records, Murdaugh suffered a skull fracture in the Sept. 4 shooting.
Murdaugh is charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report in the shooting. The alleged shooter, Curtis Edward Smith, 61, is charged with assisted suicide, insurance fraud and other charges.
Murdaugh’s troubles began June 7 with the murders of his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Murdaugh, 52, and the couple’s younger son, 22-year-old Paul Terry Murdaugh. Alex Murdaugh called 911 the night of the double homicide to report he’d found their bodies lying on the ground near the family’s dog kennels.
At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was awaiting trial in a February 2019 boating crash that killed his cousin’s girlfriend. Mallory Madison Beach, 19, of Brunson, died after the boat they and several other teens were traveling in slammed into a bridge in Beaufort County.
Beach, who was ejected from the boat, was found about a week later.
Since the murders, questions have been raised about whether Alex Murdaugh intervened to get his son preferential treatment and whether he tried to help cover up Paul Murdaugh’s culpability. According to authorities, Paul Murdaugh was drunk.
Alex Murdaugh is also under investigation for pilfering up to $5 million from his law firm and their clients. His attorneys have said the cash was taken to feed his 20-year drug habit.
According to a statement from the firm, no one there was aware of Murdaugh’s drug habit or the money he was taking from clients.
“No member of PMPED was aware of Alex’s scheme. When we learned he betrayed our trust, we requested his resignation immediately,” the statement reads. “The funds taken by Alex will not affect current or future PMPED operations. No client of PMPED will suffer a financial loss as a result of Alex’s misconduct.”
Murdaugh’s law partners were also stunned by his scheme in the Satterfield case, according to the statement.
“It’s important for everyone to know that PMPED did not represent Alex in that case,” the statement reads. “His insurance company hired counsel to represent him.
“Like many of you, we have lots of questions about Alex and what has recently come to light. We don’t know the answers, but we will continue assisting law enforcement and other authorities in efforts to find the truth.”
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is investigating Satterfield’s death, as well as the law firm embezzlement allegations.
In addition, the agency has reopened the investigation into the cold case of Stephen Smith, who was found dead on a Hampton County road in 2015. Smith, 19, of Brunson, reportedly died of blunt force trauma, and authorities suspected a hit-and-run crash.
Smith’s mother believes he may have been the victim of foul play, The Associated Press reported. Sandy Smith has told multiple news outlets over the years that she believes her son was beaten to death.
She has also said she believes Paul Murdaugh could have been involved. The Island Packet reported that Smith graduated in 2014 from Wade Hampton High School with Paul Murdaugh’s older brother, Richard “Buster” Murdaugh.
State police officials said information gathered during the Murdaugh homicide investigation led to the fresh look at Smith’s case, WCSC reported in June.
Authorities have not said how, or even if, the two cases are otherwise connected.
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