The South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) has officially launched a criminal investigation into embezzlement allegations leveled against prominent Palmetto State attorney R. Alexander “Alex” Murdaugh – the man at the center of the mushrooming ‘Murdaugh Murders’ true crime saga.
SLED made the announcement shortly after 5:10 p.m. EDT on Monday afternoon (September 13, 2021).
“SLED has opened an investigation into Alex Murdaugh based upon allegations that he misappropriated funds in connection to his position as a former lawyer with the Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED) law firm in Hampton, South Carolina,” the one-sentence news release (.pdf) noted.
In a statement accompanying the announcement, SLED chief Mark Keel once again asked for patience from the public while his agents continued to probe the various facets of this unspooling, high-profile drama – which involves one of the most powerful, politically connected families in the Palmetto State.
“As chief of SLED, I continue to urge the public to be patient and let this investigation take its course,” Keel said. “Investigative decisions we make throughout this case and any potentially related case must ultimately withstand the scrutiny of the criminal justice process.”
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(Via: Columbia S.C. Photographers Travis Bell)
“As with all cases, SLED is committed to conducting a professional, thorough, and impartial criminal investigation, no matter where the facts lead us,” Keel (above) concluded.
No matter where the facts lead us?
That strikes me as an incredibly bold statement given where this investigation appears to be headed, but as I have said from the very beginning of this saga I have faith that Keel and his agents will bring these inquiries home.
The embezzlement allegations against Alex Murdaugh were hastily made last week by his erstwhile partners at the prestigious Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED) law firm. They were leveled less than forty-eight hours after this news outlet exclusively reported on a bizarre roadside shooting incident involving Alex Murdaugh – and less than two hours after I exclusively reported that Murdaugh was allegedly battling an opioid addiction and had become “increasingly estranged from colleagues at his law firm.”
Over the weekend, I published a detailed recap on this facet of the saga – one which raised numerous questions about the nature and timing of the law firm’s allegations. Among those questions …
- Why did the law firm pull its website offline in the aftermath of the embezzlement announcement? Especially after its statement urged clients to make contact with its attorneys to answer questions?
- Exactly how much money is Alex Murdaugh alleged to have stolen from the firm? And over what time period did he allegedly steal it?
- Where was the money allegedly stolen from? Trust accounts? From other partners?
- When did the firm first realize Alex Murdaugh was allegedly embezzling money?
- Why did the law firm wait until Labor Day to disclose this alleged theft?
- What is Alex Murdaugh supposed to have done with the $10 million he allegedly stole from PMPED?
The recap also raised the question of whether the embezzlement allegations are just the beginning of a much larger scandal – one which could soon “metastasize” far beyond the family, the firm and the fourteenth judicial circuit, a five-county region of the Palmetto Lowcountry where the Murdaughs (and PMPED) have operated with impunity for decades.
Since the most recent story was published, this news outlet’s tip lines have been overflowing with additional information related to this saga …
Of interest? SLED’s news release did not specify whether PMPED requested the investigation into the allegations against Murdaugh. Typically, the agency references the entity which asked it to investigate an allegation of criminal conduct.
This omission speaks volumes. As I reported yesterday, it does not appear as though PMPED ever asked SLED – which has extensive experience investigating complex financial crimes – to probe its assertion that Murdaugh made off with as much as $10 million from the firm.
PMPED – which put its website back online Monday after a weeklong hiatus – announced last week its decision to hire a Columbia, S.C.-based accounting firm to conduct a forensic audit of the firm in the aftermath of the allegations against Murdaugh. However, as of this writing it does not appear to have requested that SLED conduct a criminal investigation into the alleged theft.
Not long after announcing the investigation, SLED spokesman Tommy Crosby issued a brief statement addressing the origins of the inquiry.
“The PMPED firm made SLED aware of the alleged theft of funds by Alex Murdaugh on September 4, 2021 and an investigation was subsequently initiated,” Crosby said.
That’s the same day this news outlet exclusively reported Murdaugh had been shot on the side of Old Salkehatchie Road near Varnville, S.C.
For those of you keeping score at home, SLED’s probe of these “misappropriation” allegations is the fifth ongoing criminal investigation tied to Alex Murdaugh and his family. Here are the other four active inquiries …
MOSELLE DOUBLE HOMICIDE INQUIRY
The highest-profile investigation, this criminal probe seeks to identify the individual(s) responsible for the June 7, 2021 murders of 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh and 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh. Alex Murdaugh claimed to have discovered the bodies of his wife and youngest son on the family’s 1,700-acre “Moselle” hunting property on the Salkehatchie river (on the border of Colleton and Hampton counties). SLED is leading the investigation into the slayings, and the S.C. attorney general’s office is likely to prosecute in the event charges are filed. No arrests have been made in connection with the case and no suspects have been identified – although Alex Murdaugh was identified very early on in the investigation as a ‘person of interest‘ in connection with the investigation.
BOAT CRASH OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE INQUIRY
This investigation seeks to determine whether Alex Murdaugh and other members of his family attempted to obstruct justice in the aftermath of a 2019 boat crash involving Paul Murdaugh. While inebriated, Paul Murdaugh allegedly slammed his father’s 17-foot center console fishing boat into the piling of a Beaufort county, S.C. bridge in the early morning hours of February 24, 2019. That crash claimed the life of 19-year-old Mallory Beach of Hampton, S.C. and injured several others. SLED is leading this investigation, and the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson would likely prosecute in the event any charges are filed. The boat crash obstruction probe is currently before a statewide grand jury in Columbia, S.C.
STEPHEN SMITH HOMICIDE INQUIRY
Stephen Smith was a 19-year-old young man from Hampton, S.C. whose brutal 2015 murder was initially misclassified as a “vehicular hit and run.” On June 22, 2021, SLED officially opened a homicide investigation based on new evidence pointing to the possible involvement of members of the Murdaugh family in his death. As with the previous two inquiries, Wilson’s office would likely handle any prosecutions in the event charges are filed.
ALEX MURDAUGH ROADSIDE SHOOTING INQUIRY
SLED officially opened this inquiry on September 5, 2021 – the day after Alex Murdaugh was allegedly shot by a passerby while ostensibly trying to change one of the ‘run-flat’ tires on the Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle he was driving. This incident took place on a rural road about seven miles from the Moselle property where Murdaugh’s wife and son were killed. Early reports from the crime scene do not appear promising for Murdaugh’s version of events, and his attorneys have done him no favors by providing mainstream media outlets with inaccurate, inconsistent information.
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As I noted last week, another suspicious death tied to this influential family has reportedly attracted “fresh law enforcement scrutiny in recent weeks.” That case involves 57-year-old Gloria Satterfield, a housekeeper to the Murdaughs who passed away following a suspicious “trip and fall” incident at a property owned by the family in February 2018. A wrongful death settlement was negotiated between her family and the Murdaughs, although it is not immediately clear whether the terms of that agreement have been honored.
Of interest? Moss, Kuhn and Fleming – the Beaufort, S.C.-based law firm which represented Satterfield in the case – appears to have taken its website offline this week. One of the attorneys at this firm – Cory H. Fleming – has close ties to the Murdaugh family and the PMPED law firm.
As of this writing there is no criminal investigation into Satterfield’s death, although my Lowcountry sources tell me information related to her untimely passing has been provided to law enforcement for review.
These sources also tell me law enforcement agencies at the local and state level have been inundated with requests for public corruption inquiries tied to various intimates of the Murdaugh family and the PMPED law firm.
From 1920-2006, three generations of Murdaughs served as solicitor (or district attorney) for a five-county region in the southernmost portion of the Palmetto State – controlling the levers of justice in Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties.
“Nobody in any of those counties got elected or appointed without the Murdaughs approval,” a source close to the family told me over the weekend.
And no one got charged – or cleared – without the Murdaughs’ signing off.
Cops, coroners, judges, prosecutors, politicians … all paid obeisance to this family (and many of them were allegedly paid by the family and its powerful allies).
Count on this news outlet to keep its readers up to speed on all of the latest developments related to this rapidly-unfolding saga …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that St. Louis Cardinals’ bird lid pictured above).
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