COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh was indicted Friday on 27 additional charges, with prosecutors saying he stole nearly $5 million in settlement money he had obtained for his dead housekeeper, an injured state trooper and other people and fees meant for his law firm.
There are still no charges in the shooting deaths of Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, in June which began what has led to six investigations into Murdaugh, his family and his finances. These state investigations are ongoing.
Murdaugh, 53, remains in jail without bond after two previous arrests — a stunning fall for a lawyer whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather were elected prosecutors in tiny Hampton County and whose family founded and grew a private law firm that takes up an entire block in the county of 20,000 people.
This latest indictment by the state grand jury says Murdaugh stole more than $4.8 million over the past five years. About $3.5 million was meant as insurance settlements for the sons of Murdaugh’s housekeeper, whose death in 2019 was attributed to a fall at his home. He already faced additional charges in that case.
Prosecutors also allege that Murdaugh was trying to hide money from lawyers who sued him and his family over the death of a teenager killed when authorities said Paul Murdaugh was driving intoxicated and wrecked his father’s boat.
“We are not surprised by these new charges relating to Alex’s handling of client funds and law firm fees. We have made it clear that Alex regrets that his actions have diverted attention from solving the murders of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul,” Murdaugh spokesperson Amanda Loveday said in a statement.
The 27 counts include seven of money laundering; four of breach of trust; seven of obtaining signature or property by false pretenses; eight of computer crimes; and one of forgery.
Friday’s charges were laid out in five indictments, describing five separate schemes in five counties where Murdaugh’s firm operated. Some are several years old and some took place in the months before his wife and son were killed. All 27 counts are felonies and if convicted of all the charges in just one of the plots, he would face more than 100 years in prison, prosecutors said.
All the charges involve a fraudulent bank account Murdaugh created with a name similar to a company that handles legal settlements, investigators said.
Murdaugh used the money to pay bank overdraft fees, credit card payments, checks written to friends and family and other items, the indictments say.
Murdaugh stole a $125,000 settlement from a state trooper injured on duty and about $450,000 from two other clients who hired them to handle their personal injury cases, indictments say.
Another indictment said Murdaugh had a fellow lawyer write checks for $792,000 in fees directly to him, instead of his PMPED Law Firm, saying the firm gave its blessing for the arrangement and “because of possible civil liability in a case involving a boat crash in which a young woman died.”
When the firm started asking questions, Murdaugh only paid them $600,000, leaving the other lawyer to make up the remaining $192,000, prosecutors said.
Murdaugh was fired from his law firm in September, one day before investigators said he tried to have himself killed so his surviving son could get a $10 million life insurance policy. The bullet only grazed his head. Murdaugh has been charged with conspiracy and a false insurance claim in that case.
The PMPED Law Firm has said Murdaugh stole millions of dollars. State investigators are looking into these allegations, but no charges have been filed.
The state Supreme Court suspended Murdaugh’s law license after his initial arrest.
The majority of the stolen money listed in the indictments involves the family of the Murdaugh family’s maid, Gloria Satterfield.
Murdaugh arranged nearly $3.5 million in insurance settlements with Satterfield’s sons after convincing them to use a banker and an estate attorney without telling them the men were his longtime friends, according to a lawsuit filed against Murdaugh by Satterfield’s family.
The sons said they received none of that money.
Lawyers for Murdaugh have asked a judge to throw out or postpone the sons’ lawsuit because they have already received more than $6 million in legal settlements from Murdaugh’s law firm and insurers of the attorney and bank, well more than the amount the sons were supposed to get.
Murdaugh’s attorneys said the criminal case over the Satterfield settlements involves the same allegations, making the civil suit unnecessary.
Lawyers for Satterfield’s family called that filing absurd and promised to fight. They also said the 27 new charges are “welcome, long overdue and were appropriately brought.”
“While justice can appear at times to move slowly, when the dam breaks, justice flows like a mighty river — and in this case a mighty river is needed to cleanse all that has occurred,” the attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter said in a statement.