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Alex Murdaugh charged with 22 federal crimes tied to fraud, money laundering schemes

Alex Murdaugh mugshot from the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Acquired March 8, 2023. (Provided)
Alex Murdaugh mugshot from the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Acquired March 8, 2023. (Provided)
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Federal prosecutors have charged Alex Murdaugh with 22 felonies related to the decade-long fraud, theft and money laundering conspiracy through which investigators say he spearheaded the theft of nearly $9 million.

Murdaugh, a former lawyer, is serving two life sentences in a South Carolina state prison for the June 2021 murders of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul. State prosecutors successfully argued at trial earlier this year Murdaugh murdered his wife and son as part of a brutal and elaborate ruse meant to conceal his multi-million dollar fraud schemes.

In the new indictment true billed Monday by a federal grand jury, prosecutors charged Murdaugh with 14 counts of money laundering, five counts of wire fraud, two counts of fraud conspiracy and one count of bank fraud in connection to those various schemes.

The 22 federal charges come in addition to 99 state charges against Murdaugh involving fraud, conspiracy, money laundering, insurance fraud, drug trafficking and tax evasion.

The gamut of charges relates to Murdaugh reportedly conspiring with friends and business associates Russell Laffitte, Cory Fleming, and Eddie Smith.

Fleming, a former attorney and longtime friend of Murdaugh, agreed May 22 to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud for his role aiding in Murdaugh's schemes. Fleming is scheduled for a hearing to formally plead guilty on Thursday, May 25, and will await sentencing thereafter.

Laffitte in November 2022 was convicted on six combined federal charges related to bank and wire fraud conspiracy and misappropriation of bank funds tied to his dealings with Murdaugh. Laffitte is free on bond while awaiting sentencing, expected to happen this summer.

Fleming and Laffitte, along with Eddie Smith, also have been indicted by South Carolina's state grand jury for their crimes alongside Murdaugh, and await trial on those charges. Fleming's state trial is set for September.

All the charges are tied broadly to Murdaugh's "fake Forge" scheme, through which investigators say Fleming and Laffitte assisted Murdaugh in stealing wrongful death and personal injury settlement funds from clients by falsifying legal documents and gaming the probate system to avoid oversight, then passing the money onto Murdaugh in exchange for a cut of the proceeds.

Murdaugh would then launder the stolen money for his own use by passing the money through a fraudulent bank account meant to mimic a legitimate business known as Forge Consulting. The actual Forge Consulting is a financial firm well-known in South Carolina legal circles for handling annuities and structured settlements for people awarded large sums of money in court proceedings.

Murdaugh called his phony bank account "Forge," which allowed him to avoid close scrutiny from his own law firm for years, and further allowed Laffitte to obscure the provenance of funds passing from Murdaugh's law firm through his family-run Palmetto State Bank then back to Murdaugh instead of to the clients rightfully owed the money.

Laffitte also extended loans and lines of credit to Murdaugh and himself out of these client funds, which he had control over by inserting himself as conservator or personal representative of the clients at Murdaugh's behest.

When the balance came due on these loans, Laffitte and Murdaugh would simply steal money from other unsuspecting clients to cover it rather than legitimately pay the money back.

Meantime, Murdaugh over time transferred millions of dollars from that "fake Forge" bank account to former client and friend Eddie Smith, who's been described variously as Murdaugh's personal drug dealer and someone who did odd jobs for Murdaugh after being left disabled from an on-the-job injury as a logger.

In Wednesday's indictment, the U.S. Attorney's Office specifically points to Murdaugh's, Fleming's and Laffitte's victimization of numerous individuals over time, most prominent among them $4.3 million stolen from the estate of Murdaugh's former housekeeper Gloria Satterfield.

In 2018, Satterfield died under somewhat sketchy circumstances following a fall at Murdaugh's home, which no one apparently witnessed. Murdaugh has since claimed to have "invented" details about the incident in order to pull off the scheme to steal insurance settlement money meant for her surviving sons.

The indictment also references Murdaugh and Laffitte's thefts from orphaned sisters Hannah Plyler and Alania Plyler Spohn, cousins Natarsha Thomas and Hakeem Pinckney, and widower Arthur Badger and his late wife Donna Badger.

In a statement Wednesday morning, Murdaugh's attorneys Jim Griffin and Dick Harpootlian said "Alex has been cooperating with the United States Attorneys’ Office and federal agencies in their investigation of a broad range of activities. We anticipate that the charges brought today will be quickly resolved without a trial."

Cory Fleming also agreed to cooperate with federal investigators as part of his plea agreement.

"This cooperation and the fruit it yields will be interesting," said attorney Eric Bland, who represents the Satterfield family and the Plyler sisters in civil lawsuits against Murdaugh tied to the frauds committed against his clients.

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"Today has been a great day for justice in South Carolina," Bland added.

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