Alex Murdaugh, the descendant of a prominent legal family in the South Carolina Lowcountry, was indicted on Thursday in an investigation into the millions of dollars missing in a settlement involving the death of his housekeeper from a long time ago, authorities said.
Murdaugh was arrested in Orlando, Fla., Upon his release from a drug rehab center, where he was recovering after claiming to be shot in the head by a roadside in September, according to the Division of l South Carolina Law Enforcement, or SLED. He will be held until an extradition hearing and faces two counts of obtaining property under false pretenses.
“Today is just one more step in a long process of justice for the many victims of these investigations,” agency chief Mark Keel said in a statement. “As I said before, we are committed to following the facts wherever they take us and we will not stop until justice is served. “
The heirs of Gloria Satterfield, a family housekeeper who died three years ago in what was initially described as an accidental fall, have insisted they had not received any proceeds from a settlement $ 4.3 million which they claim was orchestrated in secret by Murdaugh.
Satterfield’s adult sons, Michael “Tony” Satterfield and Brian Harriott, filed a lawsuit accusing Murdaugh and others of breach of fiduciary duty by not paying them. It’s unclear exactly where the money went and how others benefited from it, but Satterfield and Harriott were entitled to more than $ 2.7 million in life insurance proceeds, according to a previously undisclosed order. shared this month with NBC News and other media by estate attorneys.
Estate attorneys Eric Bland and Ronald Richter allege that after payment of legal fees related to the settlement, the remaining money went to a company called Forge, which Murdaugh had “incorporated”. A check was sent to a PO box set up by Murdaugh, and it “ended up with all the money,” they added.
Corey Fleming, the lawyer who represented the brothers at the time of the deal, said this month that he and his law firm would reimburse the estate for legal fees and expenses they received and that their insurer would also pay its “full policy limits,” according to estate attorneys.
Satterfield was 57 when she died of injuries sustained in a fall at Murdaugh’s home, where she was employed for more than two decades, according to the estate lawsuit. Estate attorneys said Murdaugh told others the family dogs tripped and fell down the stairs. Satterfield was in a coma for three weeks before he died.
Bland and Richter said Murdaugh’s arrest on Thursday was “bittersweet.”
“Since early September, families have been faced with betrayal of trust and the fact that the death of their loved one has been used as a vehicle to enrich others at the expense of clients,” the lawyers said in a statement.
Murdaugh’s attorneys said they did not see any details in the arrest warrant, but their client “intended to cooperate fully with this investigation.”
Murdaugh’s arrest – his second in two months – is the latest in a twisted saga that has raised questions about the family’s powerful ties.
From the start, authorities viewed Murdaugh as a person of interest in the deaths of his wife, Margaret, and son, Paul, one of his lawyers said in an interview on Wednesday, while insisting that his client was not involved.
Murdaugh’s actions on the June night he found his wife and son fatally shot in their rural estate came under scrutiny as state investigators scoured the evidence and unraveled a network of criminal investigations – including one involving Satterfield’s estate – spawned by the double homicide.
Law enforcement “said from the start that Alex was a person of interest,” his lawyer, Jim Griffin, told local FOX affiliate WHNS in Greenville.
State investigators declined to comment on details of the investigation and Murdaugh’s status in the investigation. Griffin did not immediately respond to a request for further comment Thursday, but suggested to WHNS that investigators had not been able to link his client to the murders.
“You’d think if Alex was the one who did it, this SLED could have established that pretty easily that night,” Griffin said. “You would think they would have searched his house and found blood somewhere. You would think they would have found the murder weapons on the property. You’d think they’d find something to tie Alex to the murders, forensic or independent evidence. And to my knowledge, they haven’t. “
Murdaugh, 53, who worked as a personal injury attorney, had an alibi on the night of the murders, Griffin said, and was spending time with his demented mother and caregiver.
In a 911 call made by Murdaugh at 10:07 p.m., he reported finding Margaret and Paul unresponsive.
“My wife and child were seriously injured,” he said after finding their bodies near the kennels on the property.
In the aftermath of the shooting, and although he did not disclose the names of suspects or people with an interest in the case or potential motives, state investigators said there was no no danger to the public.
Murdaugh’s legal legacy – and his close ties throughout the Lowcountry for decades – quickly brought him to light. His father, Randolph Murdaugh III, his grandfather, Randolph “Buster” Murdaugh Jr., and his great-grandfather, Randolph Murdaugh Sr., were all elected to the same office as the region’s top prosecutor, during almost 90 years old.
His personal life fell apart when his lawyers said he hired a friend and former client, Curtis Edward Smith, to kill him over Labor Day weekend so that another son, Buster, could benefit from a $ 10 million life insurance policy. Murdaugh’s attorneys have said he was depressed over the deaths of his wife and son and was transitioning from a 20-year addiction to opioids when he decided he wanted to die.
Murdaugh was charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report, and released on $ 20,000 bond after surrendering.
Separately, Smith faces several charges related to insurance fraud and assisted suicide, as well as drug-related charges for methamphetamine and marijuana after authorities said they found them in his home.
Griffin denied that the plot was “an elaborate money ploy”, but rather the actions of a desperate man “who had lost his will to live.”
“If he were to end his life, he would do it in a way that would benefit his son,” he said.
Griffin said Smith was standing about 5 feet away when he encountered Murdaugh on a rural road in Hampton County and complied with his request by firing a .38 caliber revolver at his head. Griffin also answered questions about why Murdaugh had no visible head injuries when he appeared in court last month, even though he insisted with police that Smith shot him.
Griffin admitted that he hadn’t seen a gunshot wound either, but is waiting for hospital records to verify Murdaugh’s injuries.
Murdaugh’s account is just one of many inconsistencies that made it difficult to identify what happened on the day of the shooting, although authorities in their arrest warrants offered his version of events.
But Smith and his lawyer, Jonny McCoy, push back. On Thursday TODAY, they disputed that Smith was a willing accomplice and claimed he was Murdaugh’s drug dealer.
Smith, 61, said Murdaugh called him and asked to meet him on the side of the road with his work truck. When he arrived he saw Murdaugh had a gun and it looked like he was going to shoot himself, that’s when Smith said he stepped in. The gun fired. Once Smith realized Murdaugh was okay, he said he was gone.
In his initial account shared by his lawyers after the shooting, Murdaugh said he was checking a flat tire when he was the victim of a random attack by a person in a blue truck.
McCoy said Murdaugh’s changing histories make him unreliable, while Smith has been consistent in what he says has happened.
“You are perpetuating Alex Murdaugh’s lie, and that’s exactly what he’s used to,” McCoy said TODAY. “He’s used to people listening to his word, and he’s used to people taking that and running with it. And that’s exactly what happened in this case. “
Other missing money
The Satterfield settlement funds are not the only ones coming under scrutiny.
Murdaugh has also been accused by his former law firm of potentially pocketing millions of dollars.
The company – Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick, which was founded by Murdaugh’s great-grandfather – filed a complaint this month claiming that Murdaugh “submitted false documents to the company and to clients who allowed it to channel stolen funds into fraudulent funds. Bank accounts. “
Another lawyer for Murdaugh, Richard “Dick” Harpootlian, said TODAY that the “vast majority” of funds were used to buy opioids and that there were “checks written to drug dealers.”
The state’s investigation into the allegations is still ongoing. Murdaugh’s lawyers say he has remorse as investigators continue to work on the original case and determine who killed his wife and son.
“He deeply regrets that his actions have distracted attention from efforts to elucidate their killings,” they said Thursday.