FITSNews has exclusively obtained shocking documents in the under-the-table wrongful death settlement for the Murdaughs’ former housekeeper Gloria Satterfield — who died suspiciously in 2018 following an alleged “trip and fall” incident at a home owned by the family.
The recently released documents raise major concerns about Alex Murdaugh, the only defendant listed in the settlement; Cory Fleming, Murdaugh’s best friend and Satterfield’s sons’ attorney; Chad Westendorf, the banker named as a representative of Satterfield’s estate; and Carmen Mullen, the judge who signed the $4.3 million secret settlement.
The petition was not entered into the court record— which is a major violation of procedure. In fact, none of these documents essential to the settlement process were entered properly.
Eric Bland, a South Carolina attorney representing Satterfield’s two sons, said Mullen should not have even heard the settlement proposal considering that the case didn’t have a number and was never in the system.
The documents — which were secretly filed in April and May of 2019 as the Murdaughs had just emerged into the media spotlight following the fatal boat crash that killed Mallory Beach — also mysteriously did not list Alex Murdaugh’s name as the defendant. It appears that he convinced the court to take his name off of it — a luxury most South Carolina citizens do not have when they admit fault in the wrongful death of another human being.
Around the same time Mullen signed the secret settlement, she also recused herself from the boat crash case due to her relationship with the Murdaugh family.
So why did she recuse herself from that case involving the powerful Murdaugh family— which was in the spotlight — but not this one?
Satterfield’s two sons — Brian Harriott and Tony Satterfield — never received a dime in the settlement, according to Bland. They were the only beneficiaries in Gloria’s estate.
Bland, who is representing Satterfield’s sons in a lawsuit against the Murdaughs and co-conspirators, told FITSNews that this settlement was done in an elaborate scheme that began soon after Satterfield’s death in February 2018.
The Satterfield family was told that Gloria tripped on the steps at the Murdaugh’s former home on Holly Street in Hampton, S.C. on February 2, 2018. They were told the Murdaughs’ dogs caused her to trip – causing a fall which resulted in her sustaining a traumatic brain injury.
Gloria was the Murdaughs’ housekeeper and nanny for more than two decades.
“She helped raise their children,” Bland said.
Gloria’s family were provided very few details about her death.
Last week, Hampton County Coroner Angela Topper requested that SLED — the same agency investigating the double homicide of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh — open an investigation into Gloria Satterfield’s death due to “inconsistencies” surrounding her death.
Satterfield’s death was not reported to the coroner at the time — nor did officials perform an autopsy, according to a letter Topper sent SLED.
On Satterfield’s death certificate, the manner of death said “natural,” which Topper said was not consistent with her injuries from a trip-and-fall incident.
Why would the insurance company approve a settlement after a natural cause of death?
The recent revelations come a week after the shocking news broke of Alex Murdaugh’s alleged attempted suicide-for-hire insurance plot as the Murdaugh Murders saga continues to spin further and further off the rails.
How It Worked
At Gloria’s funeral, Alex allegedly started railroading her sons and convinced them to hire his friend Cory Fleming to get money for their mother’s death, according to Bland.
However, Satterfield’s sons did not know that Fleming was Murdaugh’s best friend.
He also convinced Gloria’s sons that they needed to have a banker (Westendorf) work as their personal representative of Gloria’s estate.
Bland told FITSNews that Fleming and Murdaugh did this so that Fleming would only be legally obligated to communicate with Westendorf about what was going on and did not have to tell Gloria’s sons about settlement money.
Days later, in December 2018, one of Murdaugh’s insurance providers agreed to a petition for $505,000 for personal liability in Satterfield’s wrongful death, according to the only public documents available in her case. Alex Murdaugh admitted fault in her death.
S.C. circuit court judge Perry Buckner — who recused himself from the 2019 boat crash case because of his ties to the Murdaugh family — approved the $505,000 settlement petition in December 2018, according to online court documents.
Yes, the two judges who recused themselves from one Murdaugh case appeared to be involved with this one during that same time period. Perhaps because Gloria’s case did not get any media attention at the time?
“My clients were not aware of the $505,000 until they read about it in the media,” Bland said.
Early last week, Bland first told FITSNews that he was representing Gloria Satterfield’s two sons — who claim they never received any money in their mother’s wrongful death settlement against Alex Murdaugh.
Immediately after publishing that story, several attorney sources told FITSNews that the settlement total was actually millions of dollars and Satterfield’s sons never got any of it.
“Different lawyers are coming clean,” Bland told FITSNews. “Because there is an intense scrutiny on this case, everybody is being cautious not to do lawyer spin.”
Bland later learned that Alex Murdaugh’s insurance company actually settled for more than $4.3 million — with $2.8 million that was supposed to go to his clients.
Bland pointed out a few things that were concerning about the document above:
- Why is there an additional $105,000 for prosecution expenses?
- The prosecution expenses are on top of the $177,500 that Fleming’s law firm – where Alex Murdaugh previously worked — received of the total sum from the $505K partial settlement.
- Where is the breakdown for the prosecution fees?
- Why did it come out to $105,000 even?
- The $4.3 million is very high considering the facts of the case and the little work done by attorneys (4 papers filed total)
“In this case, there wasn’t a lawsuit. What expenses were there?” Bland asked. “How was that approved?”
Bland pointed out that the order did not include information about the $675,000 of medical bills from the three weeks Satterfield spent in the hospital. He believes this is medical fraud.
“What else they didn’t ever disclose to Judge Mullen was, Gloria had $675,000 of medical bills…and they crafted a settlement that only $50,000 if it was ever paid, would go to pay off the medical bills,” Bland explained. “And then you structure something like that, it’s Medicaid fraud, because there was enough money in the $4.3 million recovery to pay off the medical bill for $675,000. But the way they structured it and Judge Mullen and signed it, only $50,000 would be available to pay medical bills.”
The documents from the secret settlement — which were never entered into the public index — show that a different set of rules applied to Alex Murdaugh and his co-conspirators in the court of law.
It appears that after the Murdaugh family was thrust into the limelight following the boat crash, Alex Murdaugh was able to convince the court to drop his name from the caption of the document where it typically would state Gloria Satterfield vs. Alex Murdaugh.
See a screenshot from the order below…
According to Bland, the order is concerning for a number of reasons.
- Alex’s name is not listed as a defendant at the top as it should be. Alex did not ask the court for permission to remove his name.
- There is no docket number listed on the document.
- The document was not entered into the court record (these documents always have dates and court infomation on the side).
Mullen signed the order on May 13, 2019 — days after Paul Murdaugh’s bond hearing for his three felony charges in the boat crash.
What Happened to the Money?
If Satterfield’s sons never got a dime, where did all of this money go?
“That check went straight to Cory Fleming,” Bland said.
But here is where it gets complicated.
Murdaugh and Fleming apparently claimed they were doing a structured settlement for Satterfield’s sons, although this was never disclosed to the court. Essentially, this would work like a trust — instead of getting a lump sum, the plaintiff would receive more money over time with tax breaks.
Murdaugh claimed that he set up an annuity account for Satterfield’s sons through a company called Forge Consulting LLC.
To be clear, it appears that Forge Consulting officials were completely unaware and not involved in this scheme.
“The only problem is Cory never got any documents from Forge and he’s taking direction from the defendant (Murdaugh), who tells him after you take your fees, write the check to “Forge” and send it to a P.O box in Hampton, South Carolina.”
Are you following?
Alex Murdaugh allegedly told Fleming to make checks out to “Forge” — not Forge Consulting LLC — after he set up an account with that name.
Murdaugh and Fleming did not take any steps to set up a structured settlement for Satterfield’s sons, Bland said. First of all, you have to get the court’s approval, which they didn’t.
“When you do a structure, you get tons of documents in advance of the settlement, because you have to see what the annuity returns going to look like over 10 or 15 year period,” Bland said. “And the beneficiaries have to sign off that they’re going to get their money over time instead of once. None of that was done.”
So after the check was made to “Forge,” what happened next?
“Alex Murdaugh opened up a bank account at Bank of America under the name of Forge, got the check cashed and walked away with the money,” Bland said.
After this article was published, Forge Consulting LLC issued a statement that says they had “no involvement in or knowledge of the alleged inappropriate conduct of Alex Murdaugh.”
“When we learned of the possible existence of such an account, law enforcement officials were immediately contacted—along with others who are investigating—to offer our assistance,” the statement said.
‘The Murdaugh Citadel Is Going To Fall’
There are so many ongoing investigations involving the Murdaugh family at this point, it’s hard to keep track.
SLED is investigating Gloria Satterfield’s death and possible financial crimes related to the settlement.
Bland told FITSNews that his clients deserve answers after being in the dark for three years.
“And they want justice,” Bland said. “Now, justice comes in many forms. It comes in getting the money, like they deserve. But also, when a 57 year old woman died prematurely… well, then justice has to be served for that, too.”
However, Bland was clear that there has been no evidence of foul play involved in Satterfield’s death and it is still presumed that she died from falling down the stairs.
SLED is also investigating embezzlement allegations launched against Alex Murdaugh by his family’s own law firm Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED).
Bland said he wouldn’t be surprised if the FBI got involved considering that it appears this case involves federal crimes such as money laundering, conspiracy, wire fraud, and fraud.
“The Murdaugh Citadel is going to fall,” Bland said, referring to the family’s historical power in the Lowcountry as well as those who might have aided and abetted them over the years. “I think the Murdaugh firm won’t be what it was. I think the solicitor’s office will be completely different. I’d be shocked if Cory Fleming kept his law license, but who knows.”
It is likely that Alex Murdaugh won’t be the only one to go down with the “Murdaugh Citadel.” However, as of early Wednesday, Cory Fleming was still practicing law in Beaufort, while Alex Murdaugh has been suspended.
Bland said he thinks the Satterfield case is at the “epicenter” of the Murdaugh dynasty’s downfall and ultimate collapse.
“In my 33 years, this is the most egregious significant breach of trust and concerted effort by attorneys and others to assist someone in power to the detriment of needy clients,” Bland, who specializes in legal malpractice, told FITSNews.
The latest revelations in the Gloria Satterfield case leave us with so many questions about the South Carolina Justice system.
How many people knew about this and didn’t do anything?
Did they do this to other people?
How did our justice system allow this to happen?
How many people will go down for this?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].
WANNA SOUND OFF?
Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our articles? Or an issue you’d like to address proactively? We have an open microphone policy here at FITSNews! Submit your letter to the editor (or guest column) via email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE.