Alex Murdaugh Charged With Swindling Sons of Dead Housekeeper
Mr. Murdaugh, the scion of a legal dynasty in South Carolina, is accused of pocketing $2.8 million in settlement money that was supposed to go to the housekeeper’s family.,
Alex Murdaugh, the South Carolina lawyer who has endured a dramatic downfall since his wife and son were shot in an unsolved killing in June, was arrested on Thursday and charged with swindling millions of dollars from the sons of his former housekeeper.
Mr. Murdaugh, 53, was taken into custody at a drug detox facility in Orlando, Fla., and charged with two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses, a felony with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. He was booked into a jail in Orlando.
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 front steps of the Murdaugh family’s rural home in Islandton, S.C. Following her death, Mr. Murdaugh referred her two sons to a lawyer he promised would help them, the sons claimed in a recent lawsuit, but he did not disclose that the lawyer, Cory Fleming, was a close friend and former college roommate.
Mr. Fleming eventually negotiated a $4.3 million settlement with Mr. Murdaugh under which Ms. Satterfield’s sons, Tony Satterfield and Brian Harriott, would be paid $2.8 million after lawyers’ fees. But the sons said in their latest lawsuit that they were never told about the settlement and received no money. Instead, according to their suit, Mr. Murdaugh had directed Mr. Fleming to send the money to him, ostensibly to set up a fund for Ms. Satterfield’s adult sons. More than $3 million, the lawsuit said, wound up in Mr. Murdaugh’s personal bank account.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division also opened an investigation into the circumstances of Ms. Satterfield’s death after the coroner in Hampton County, S.C., raised questions about the fact that her death had been attributed to natural causes, despite the fall, and that no autopsy was conducted. Ms. Satterfield suffered a brain hemorrhage and died at a hospital several weeks after the fall.
Mr. Fleming has insisted that he was unaware that the money had not been forwarded to the sons, but he acknowledged that he made mistakes in his handling of the case. His law license has been suspended, and his name was removed from the title of his firm.
The two lawyers who are now representing Ms. Satterfield’s sons, Eric S. Bland and Ronnie Richter, said on Thursday that it was a “bittersweet day” for the family.
Ms. Satterfield’s relatives “are dealing with the betrayal of trust” and the fact “that their loved one’s death was used as a vehicle to enrich others over the clients,” the lawyers said.
The latest arrest is the second round of criminal charges against Mr. Murdaugh, the scion of a legal dynasty in the South Carolina Lowcountry that extends back more than a century.
Last month, the law firm associated with Mr. Murdaugh’s family, named P.M.P.E.D. after the initials of its partners, asked him to resign after reporting that he had stolen millions of dollars from the firm 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 ruled a murder rather than a suicide, according to the first round of criminal charges brought against him. Mr. Murdaugh has acknowledged the attempt; his lawyers said he feared that his older son, Richard “Buster” Murdaugh, would not be able to collect on his $10 million life insurance policy if his death was ruled a suicide.
Mr. Murdaugh survived the shooting with a minor head wound. Mr. Smith has denied pulling the trigger, saying the gun went off as he attempted to stop Mr. Murdaugh from shooting himself.
Mr. Murdaugh was charged in that case with insurance fraud and filing a false police report. Mr. Smith was charged with trying to assist Mr. Murdaugh’s suicide as well as other gun charges, all of which he has denied.
Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers said in a statement that he would be returned to South Carolina and that he would likely appear before a magistrate judge for a bond hearing on Friday.
“Alex intends to fully cooperate with this investigation, as he has with the investigation into the murder of his wife and son,” said the lawyers, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin. “He deeply regrets that his actions have distracted from the efforts to solve their murders.”
The killings of Mr. Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, 52, and their younger son, Paul, 22, remain unsolved. Both were shot to death, and their bodies were discovered by Mr. Murdaugh in June 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 facing charges of drunkenly crashing a boat into a bridge, killing one of his five passengers, Mallory Beach, who was thrown from the boat.
Chief Mark Keel of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said on Thursday that the arrest of Mr. Murdaugh was “merely one more step in a long process for justice for the many victims in these investigations.”
He said agents would “continue to work tirelessly on behalf of those who were victimized by Alex Murdaugh and others.”