Days after FITSNews’ shocking report that photos of Mallory Beach’s dead body were being used to promote a “tasteless and completely obscene” documentary about the Murdaugh family, Beach’s family has filed a new lawsuit against those they say are responsible.
The suit, filed Friday in Hampton County Courthouse, accuses Gregory Parker, owner of Parker’s gas stations and an aspiring local billionaire, of conspiring with a reporter to publicly release confidential court files and of hiring “knife fighters” to create fake social media posts in an effort to bully the Beach family out of pursuing their ongoing wrongful death claim against him.
Mallory Beach, 19, was killed Feb. 24, 2019, in Beaufort County when she was thrown from a boat being driven by Paul Murdaugh, the son of disgraced legal scion Alex Murdaugh, who is at the center of several criminal investigations and a person of interest in the murders of Paul and his mother this past summer.
Paul Murdaugh, who was not of legal drinking age at the time of the crash, was facing three felony Boating Under the Influence charges at the time of his death. Prior to the crash, he had purchased alcohol at a Parker’s Kitchen near his family’s Callawassie River home using his older brother’s ID, according to the investigation case file.
Shortly after the crash, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Mallory Beach’s estate against several parties they believed to have contributed to her death, including Parker, Alex Murdaugh and Paul’s brother, Buster.
That lawsuit — and its demands for financial disclosure from the Murdaughs — continues to have a strong and looming presence in the complex saga and, according to sources familiar with the case, might have played a part in Alex Murdaugh’s unraveling.
Last month, the court granted the Beach family’s request to freeze Alex and Buster Murdaugh’s assets and assign a receivership to comb through their finances.
Listed as defendants in the new lawsuit are Parker, his attorney Jason D’Cruz, Parker’s Corporation, general counsel for Parker’s Corporation Blake Greco, controversial freelance journalist Vicky Ward, private investigators Max Fratoddi and Henry Rosado and Private Investigations Services Group of Bluffton.
The lawsuit alleges that Parker, his attorneys and the investigators engaged in a civil conspiracy to launch and present a social media campaign against the family, as well as misappropriate the family’s private property and other images, to “inflict severe emotional distress” and “diminish their resolve” to pursue damages against Parker’s for contributing to the death of Mallory Beach.
The complaint asserts that defendants, excluding Ward, “conspired” with others to engage in “surreptitious activities” and “abuse of process.” According to the lawsuit, fake social media profiles were created to intimidate and demoralize the family, but no further details about the nature or frequency of the posts were included.
In addition, the defendants are accused of making false statements, violating the South Carolina Alternative Mediation Resolution’s rules, stealing or helping to steal private confidential property “with no right to do so,” avoiding or attempting to avoid the discovery of “these illegal activities by filing false documents,” as well as “other things that have yet to be discovered.”
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On Tuesday, Beach family attorney Mark Tinsley filed a motion in the 2019 wrongful death case asking for Parker and his representatives to show the court why they should not be sanctioned or held in contempt of court for allegedly allowing confidential court files to be purchased and distributed by a reporter.
Tinsley contends — in both Tuesday’s motion and Friday’s lawsuit — that the three-minute trailer for a documentary produced by Vicky Ward, BlackFin and People magazine features evidence photos that were never released to the public, as well as six clips from a confidential video presentation that was shown during the mediation process.
He says Ward told him around Sept. 14, 2021, that she had “purchased portions of what she called ‘the Beach case file’ and that the same came from ‘Parker and his law firm’ of ‘Baker Hostetler‘ but that she felt ‘they were slimy,’ they ‘had an agenda’ and that she ‘has nothing to do with them’ other than she received ‘their stuff.’”
The filing and lawsuit both say that Ward was told the materials she had in her possession were confidential and a violation of South Carolina’s confidential mediation process and its rules.
Sources have told FITSNews that the documentary trailer was a “sizzle reel,” a video compilation that is used to find a buyer for the project. Those same sources say the documentary series has been purchased and is expected to air at an unknown date on a channel affiliated with Discovery.
Shortly after FITSNews reported on Tinsley’s filing Wednesday, the trailer was removed from the Vimeo account on which it had appeared.
On Friday afternoon, Parker’s issued a statement in response to Tuesday’s filing:
“Parker’s denies any allegation of providing crime scene photos, video footage or other confidential mediation information to Vicky Ward. Parker’s is disappointed that anyone would leak or discuss information contained in these items with the media. In fact, when Parker’s filed a motion in November of 2020 regarding mediation material, Parker’s was careful not to disclose anything that could be considered confidential. We continue to send our condolences to the Beach family for their loss and will be filing a timely response to the Plaintiff’s false, baseless allegations.”
Parker’s statement included a link to the motion that its attorneys filed last year.
This motion was one of two the gas station chain made at the time — one asking the court for permission to use the footage to “support Parker’s pending Motion to Transfer Venue and Motion to Amend Answer”; the other accusing Tinsley of “discovery abuse.”
Parker’s attorneys alleged that Tinsley had a “personal relationship” with FITSNews news director Mandy Matney and had shared the video with her. The attorneys’ “evidence” of this was that Tinsley and Matney are linked as “friends” on Facebook and that FITSNews published a quote from Mallory’s mother, Renee Beach, that apparently was also said in the video.
At the time, FITSNews chose not to publicly address the filings because we believed that the weakness of evidence spoke for itself. A Facebook “friendship” is hardly a “personal relationship” and the quote used by FITSNews was clearly attributed.
Matney was never shown a video by Tinsley. The quote from Renee Beach was provided to Matney by Tinsley when she asked for comment from his client.
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Ward — perhaps best known for her starry-eyed treatment of Jeffrey Epstein in a 2003 “Vanity Fair” profile and the resounding thumbs-down she later received as a journalist from his victims who were “horrified” by how she treated them — was subpoenaed in late September by Tinsley to testify in a deposition about what materials she had purchased and from whom.
After Ward’s attorney invoked the “shield law” in refusing to be deposed, Ward provided FITSNews with this statement:
“The allegation that I bought anything is false. I had a very pleasant meeting with Mark Tinsley but there were obviously some crossed wires in our conversation which he may have misinterpreted. I never bought anything from anyone for journalistic purposes and I never would. I am deeply sorry he got that impression.”
The New Lawsuit
The Beach family say they were never asked whether the mediation video — which is privately owned by them — could be used in the project.
“At no time have the Plaintiffs ever agreed in any way to participate in Defendant Ward’s tasteless and completely obscene production.”
In addition, interviews that appeared on the mediation video with Mallory’s sister and brother-in-law were never intended for public release, according to Friday’s filing.
“They have had their images stolen for profit of others; they have had their privacy invaded.”2021CP2500392
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Liz Farrell is the new executive editor at FITSNews. She was named 2018’s top columnist in the state by South Carolina Press Association and is back after taking a nearly two-year break from corporate journalism to reclaim her soul. Email her at [email protected] or tweet her @ElizFarrell.
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