Alex Murdaugh, the South Carolina attorney who has suffered a dramatic demise since his wife and son were shot and killed in an unsolved murder in June, was arrested Thursday and charged with defrauding the sons of his former housekeeper.
Mr. Murdaugh, 53, was taken into custody at a drug rehabilitation center in Orlando, Florida, and charged with two counts of obtaining property through false pretenses, a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. He was incarcerated in an Orlando prison.
The charges stem from a settlement that Mr. Murdaugh and his insurers reached with the sons of the housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, who died in 2018 after falling on the doorstep of the Murdaugh family’s rural home in Islandton, SC. Murdaugh referred her two sons to an attorney who he promised to help them, the sons claimed in a recent lawsuit, but did not disclose that the attorney, Cory Fleming, was a close friend and former college roommate.
Mr. Fleming eventually negotiated a settlement with Mr. Murdaugh under which Mrs. Satterfield’s sons, Tony Satterfield and Brian Harriott, would receive $2.8 million. But the sons said in their latest lawsuit that they were never notified of the settlement and that they were not given any money. Instead, according to their charges, Mr. Murdaugh had ordered Mr. Fleming to send the money to him, ostensibly to set up a fund for Mrs. Satterfield’s adult sons. The money, the lawsuit said, ended up in Mr. Murdaugh’s personal bank account.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division also opened an investigation into the circumstances of Ms. Satterfield after the Hampton County, SC, coroner asked questions that her death had been attributed to natural causes, despite the fall, and that an autopsy had not been performed. Mrs. Satterfield suffered a brain haemorrhage and died in a hospital a few weeks after the fall.
Mr Fleming has maintained that he was unaware that the money had not been forwarded to the sons, but acknowledged that he had made mistakes in handling the case. His attorney’s license has been suspended and his name has been removed from the title of his firm.
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 family members “have to deal with the betrayal of trust” and the fact that “the death of their loved one was used as a means of enriching others over clients,” the lawyers said.
The latest arrest is the second round of criminal charges against Mr. Murdaugh, the scion of a legal lowland South Carolina dynasty dating back more than a century.
Last month, the law firm associated with Mr. Murdaugh’s family, named PMPED after his partners’ initials, asked him to resign after reporting that he had stolen millions of dollars from the company and from clients.
On Sept. 4, Mr. Murdaugh brought one of his cousins, Curtis Edward Smith, to the side of a road and asked Mr. Smith to kill him so that his death would be considered a murder rather than a suicide, according to the first criminal charges against him. mr. Murdaugh has acknowledged the attempt; his lawyers said he feared his eldest son, Richard “Buster” Murdaugh, would not be able to collect his $10 million life insurance policy if his death were considered suicide.
mr. Murdaugh survived the shooting with a minor head injury. mr. Smith has denied pulling the trigger, saying the gun went off when he tried to stop Mr. Murdaugh would shoot himself.
Mr. Murdaugh was charged in that case with insurance fraud and filing a false police report. Mr Smith was charged with aiding in Mr Murdaugh’s suicide, as well as other gun charges, all of which he has denied.
Mr. Murdaugh’s attorneys said in a statement that he would be returned to South Carolina and likely appear before a magistrate on Friday for a bail hearing.
“Alex intends to cooperate fully with this investigation, as he did with the murder of his wife and son,” attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin said. “He deeply regrets that his actions have diverted attention from efforts to solve their murders.”
The murders of the wife of Mr. Murdaugh, Maggie, 52, and their youngest son, Paul, 22, remain unsolved. Both were shot and their bodies discovered in June by Mr. Murdaugh near the family’s dog kennel, next to their home.
At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh, a student at the University of South Carolina, was charged with drunkenly crashing a boat into a bridge, killing one of its five passengers, Mallory Beach, who was thrown from the boat.
South Carolina’s Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel said Thursday that Mr. Murdaugh’s arrest was “just one more step in a long process for justice for the many victims in these investigations.”
He said officers “would continue to work tirelessly for those who were victims of Alex Murdaugh and others.”