The Alex Murdaugh fraud scandal shook the legal community and made headlines around the world as it exposed the dark side of a respected legal family in South Carolina, leading to the downfall of a prominent lawyer. Murdaugh was convicted of the murder of his wife and son on March 2nd, 2023, and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. What has been less sensationalized, however, is the fraud the 54-year-old disbarred attorney has been accused of.
Alex Murdaugh is a member of a well-known legal family in South Carolina, with a reputation for working on high-profile cases and representing powerful clients. He had a successful legal career, working as a partner at the law firm of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick (PMPED). His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were also all lawyers in the state, and the Murdaugh family has long been considered a legal dynasty in South Carolina.
The dynasty came crashing down after Murdaugh was charged with 32 counts of embezzlement, 21 counts of computer crime, and 14 counts of money laundering, among other charges. Prosecutors are describing it as a large scheme to steal roughly $9.3 million from his law firm and clients. The charges span six counties, throughout which he defrauded victims of $8.8 million, and $490,000 from the state.
Prosecutors argue that Murdaugh billed personal expenses to clients and on firm credit cards to create the fraud. Additionally, the state alleges he hid money by having checks made out to Palmetto State Bank, where the former CEO, Russel Lafitte, converted it for Murdaugh’s personal use. Investigators reportedly found that Murdaugh had used the stolen funds to support a lavish lifestyle that included private plane trips, vacations, and expensive cars. He had allegedly fallen into significant debt and used the fraud scheme to pay off his personal debts and maintain his extravagant lifestyle.
The scheme reportedly began in 2018, but it wasn’t until 2021 that the fraud was uncovered. It began with the death of Murdaugh’s housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, in 2018. Satterfield fell down the stairs at the Moselle home. Murdaugh urged the family to file a wrongful death claim, and after doing so, Satterfield’s insurance policies paid out more than $4 million. Murdaugh stands accused of pocketing that money with an associate.
Murdaugh allegedly resigned from his position at PMPED and checked into rehab for drug addiction shortly before the scheme was discovered in 2021. However, his resignation and rehabilitation were later revealed to be part of a cover-up for the fraud he had committed. He was arrested in 2021 at a Florida rehab center and was charged with embezzling millions from Satterfield’s sons. He has remained in jail since that day and has agreed to pay back the stolen $4.3 million in a confession of judgment. Satterfield’s death is now under investigation for foul play. Since that arrest, Murdaugh has been additionally accused of various fraud-related charges, as mentioned above, and has since been convicted of the murder of his wife and son. Currently, there is no set trial date for the fraud charges.
If convicted of the fraud charges alone, Murdaugh faces anywhere from 700 – 900 years in prison. The case against Alex Murdaugh is a stark reminder of the damage that white-collar crime can cause. Murdaugh’s alleged fraud scheme not only cost his law firm millions of dollars but also damaged his reputation and his family’s legal legacy.
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