The most immediate legal threat facing Southern Descendants is related to insurance fraud as former law firms and clients file suit.
The law firm of Peters, Murdoff, Parker, Altzroth & Detrick, which was founded in 1910 by Mr Murdoff’s great-grandfather, said that Mr Murdaugh had for many years “presented false documents to the firm and clients, causing them to steal from the funnel”. Funds in fraudulent bank accounts.” The firm filed suit against Mr. Murdoff last week and asked a judge to force him to pay multiple insurance payments for his customers.
According to a person familiar with the firm’s internal investigation, the firm is investigating at least 15 accounts that may have been affected. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division has said it is conducting a criminal investigation into the missing funds, and Chief Mark Keel recently said SLED is calling on federal investigators to assist them with other possible crimes.
Mr Murdoff and his lawyers previously admitted in court that he misappropriated some client funds to support his long-running addiction to opioids. In a statement, Mr Murdaugh’s lawyer Jim Griffin described the trial as a “very sad event”.
“Alex has every member [firm] in very high regard. He has promised his full cooperation to the firm.”
The Murdoff firm is one of the most storied in the Southeast, renowned for its work on major personal injury and wrongful death cases, particularly those involving railroads and tire manufacturers.
Companies are hesitant to try cases on Murdoff’s home turf of Hampton County, SC, because of the law firm’s history of outsizing jury awards in this community of 20,000 people. The firm’s red-brick headquarters in the small town of Hampton has been called “the house that CSX built” in reference to its cases against the railroad.
The Murdoff family is also influential in the criminal justice system because in addition to running the law firm, Murdoff ran the office of solicitor, or district attorney, for the five-county area from 1920 to 2006. Mr Murdoff most recently served as one. Volunteer prosecutor, a perch that gave him unusual access to judges and law enforcement.
The Murdoff Family Dynasty opened during the summer. On 7 June, Mr Murdoff’s wife Maggie Murdoff and their young son were fatally shot at the family’s hunting estate, the Moselle. Investigators have not arrested anyone but say there is no danger to the public.
Two weeks later, based on information gathered in the double murder investigation, SLED reopened the investigation into the 2015 death of Alex Murdaugh’s eldest son, Buster’s former classmate Stephen Smith. SLED also launched an investigation into the 2018 death of Murdogs housekeeper Gloria Satterfield. In civil court, Mr Murdaugh is being sued by the family of Mallory Beach, a 19-year-old woman who was killed in 2019 in a boat accident driven by Mr Murdog’s younger son, Paul Murdog.
Mr. Murdoff said the double murder of his wife and son “caused an incredibly difficult time in my life. I’ve made so many decisions that I really regret.” His lawyer said he had no involvement in their deaths. Mr Murdoff has declined to comment on the Satterfield and Smith investigations. Regarding Ms Beach, she has said in court filings that one of her boats was involved in the accident, but she should not be held responsible for her death. Buster Murdoff, through a spokesman for the family, declined to comment.
On 4 September, Mr. Murdog attempted to arrange his murder by hiring an accomplice to shoot what his lawyers later said in court, an episode driven by the stress of losing his job, his wife. Grief over the loss of a son and a haze as he attempted to wean himself off opioids. He also said the assisted suicide attempt was to secure a $10 million life insurance payment for his surviving son, Buster.
His lawyers have said Mr Murdoff is out on bond on fraud charges related to a suicide attempt and is in a Georgia drug-rehabilitation facility.
The firm said in its lawsuit that it disclosed evidence of insurance fraud just before helping with the suicide attempt. On September 2, Mr Murdoff’s associates found a check on their desk from another law firm for fees from a joint case. According to the lawsuit, some of the fees were payable to the law firm, not Mr Murdog, but the check was made payable to Mr Murdog and “credited to a personal account”.
According to the lawsuit, members of the firm confronted Murdoff and forced him to resign the next day, 3 September.
His former colleagues say in a lawsuit that Mr. Murdog defrauded him and his clients by abusing structured settlements, typically used when the beneficiary in the lawsuit is a minor or is incapacitated in some way. Structured settlements are arrangements in which the amount is held in an account and interest accrues. Instead of a typical settlement, in which a lump sum payment is made, structured settlements pay a set amount on a regular basis and provide tax benefits for the beneficiary.
Mr Murdoff’s former aides also alleged that he misappropriated the firm’s money by using a similarly structured payment method for attorneys’ fees, often used by trial lawyers over time instead of charging a large fee in one fell swoop. Along with this is done to smooth your income.
Mr Murdoff created a personal account called “Alexander Murdoff D/B/A Forge” to imitate a well-known broker of structured settlements called Forge Consulting LLC, his former colleagues said in the suit. Forge is based in Atlanta and has an office in Columbia, SC, and works frequently with plaintiffs’ attorneys such as the Murdoff firm. According to the lawsuit, Forge also works with firm lawyers on structured attorneys’ fees.
Forge founder and chief executive Spooner Phillips and Columbia principal Michael Gunn said they were “blinded by an inappropriate bank account that contained ‘Forge’ in its name.”
“When we became aware of the possible existence of such an account, law enforcement officials were immediately contacted—along with others investigating them—to offer our assistance,” he said in a statement. ” Mr. Gunn, a lobbyist for the Association of South Carolina Trial Lawyers, worked closely with Mr. Murdaugh, the union’s former president, for many years.
Internal and criminal investigations involving Mr. Murdoff’s actions have caused turmoil within the law firm, whose lawyers include Mr. Murdoff’s older brother Randolph Murdoff IV. The firm has said it is working closely to identify affected customers and added that no customer “will suffer financial loss as a result of Alex’s misconduct.”
According to a person familiar with the internal investigation, the most significant portion of the missing money is a $4.3 million wrongful-death settlement for Ms. Satterfield’s sons. Her adult sons said in a lawsuit that following the death of their mother in a trip and accident at Murdog’s home in February 2018, Mr. Murdog encouraged them to sue so they could settle their insurers. He says he never got any money in the trial, “not a penny.”
Corey Fleming, a Beaufort, S.C., attorney who represented the Satterfield sons in negotiations with insurers, issued a public apology last week, saying he was betrayed by a close friend and lifelong college roommate Mr. Murdoff. “Mr. Fleming says he was not a willing participant in Mr. Murdoff’s plan, but was used,” according to the statement.
The South Carolina Supreme Court on Friday suspended Mr. Fleming’s law license. The court suspended Mr Murdow’s license last month.
Eric Bland, the lawyer now representing the Satterfield sons, said he was pleased that the court “acted swiftly and with certainty” in suspending Mr Fleming. He said Mr. Fleming has paid the legal fees and expenses paid in the settlement and that his malpractice insurer has paid the limits of his policy. It totaled more than $1 million, according to people familiar with the settlement terms.
“You’ve got five bodies with this family in six years, and that’s a lifetime for a village, let alone one family,” Mr. Bland said. “But remember, Al Capone didn’t go for murder, he went for tax evasion.”
write to [email protected] . on Valerie Bauerlin