Former clients of Alex Murdaugh not only haven’t been “made whole” — as his attorneys had claimed in his Dec. 13 bond hearing — they are being revictimized by his former law firm as it seeks to repay the money he is accused of stealing, according to an attorney now representing two of Murdaugh’s alleged victims.
The attorney, S.C. Rep. Justin Bamberg, told FITSNews on Monday that one of the alleged victims he is representing, from whom Murdaugh is accused of taking $750,000 nearly two years ago, was recently charged a $300,000 attorney fee by Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick when the firm returned the money to him.
That fee, Bamberg said, was money that Murdaugh allegedly stole two years ago from the firm and therefore is not something his client is obligated to repay.
“Attorney fees are always contractual in nature,” Bamberg said. “I can’t slap somebody today, and then try to have a relationship with them based on two years ago, before I slapped them. That’s not how life works. That’s not how business works, either.”
Bamberg said another former client of Murdaugh’s was threatened by one of PMPED’s attorneys after he informed the firm that he had retained outside counsel.
Also shocking … Bamberg said that Murdaugh contacted a former client to tell them that he had secured their settlement after his law license was suspended and while he was in drug rehab.
“It’s so mind-boggling,” Bamberg said. “But at this point, you know, I think most people are of the position that nothing surprises them anymore.”
Murdaugh is accused of stealing more than $6.2 million in alleged schemes dating back to 2016. He faces 51 charges — 48 of which are for financial crimes and three for a bizarre Labor Day weekend incident in which Murdaugh claimed he had been shot.
Sources close to the several investigations connected to Murdaugh have told FITSNews that he could ultimately face hundreds of charges and that his crimes could date back even farther.
Earlier this month, FITSNews exclusively reported that Bamberg was entering the Murdaugh Murders Saga arena by representing former clients of the disgraced Hampton County attorney.
In a bold news release on Dec. 16, Bamberg called out the powerful Hampton law firm Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick, and attacked the good ole boy system that enabled Murdaugh’s alleged bad behavior.
“Murdaugh literally PMPED people’s pockets,” Bamberg, who grew up in a county just north of Hampton, said in the release. “Wrong is wrong, and men or businesses that have made millions a year since the time my great-grandfather was a sharecropper are no better than the guy who walks to work today just to make ends meet.”
The release even encouraged former clients of Murdaugh to contact Bamberg via a cheeky email address: [email protected]
“Nobody likes a thief, and anyone who carelessly left the doors unlocked so the thief could walk inside without having to break a window first shouldn’t get a pass,” Bamberg said.
The Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys in the state call for attorneys and law firms facing malpractice claims to inform their clients or former clients in writing that they should seek outside counsel. These attorneys and law firms are prevented from seeking to limit or mitigate their own liability and cannot give their clients or former clients any legal advice in the matter.
Bamberg said Monday he’s received numerous phone calls from alleged victims seeking help.
“I don’t want anybody thinking that just because they were represented by that office that something was done wrong,” he said. “Because that is not necessarily the case in any way, shape or form. However, where things were done wrong — and if they were done wrong — people have every right to exercise the rights they have. That’s what the legal system is all about.”
Bamberg also suggested that the court might consider a receivership on PMPED as the case continues to get more complicated.
“The firm is a direct beneficiary of Alex Murdaugh’s misdeeds and it raises the question of: Should the firm’s money be tied up?” Bamberg said. “I think that for the best interest of the victims who have to be made whole, (a receivership) is something that needs to be looked at.”
Taking on an Institution
In Hampton County, PMPED has held incredible power for generations.
Bamberg calls it an “institution.”
“When you live in rural South Carolina, almost everything is institutionalized, for lack of better words,” he said Monday. “The concept of ‘new’ is not something you see here very often. If it’s a doctor, that doctor was the doctor for your parent. If it’s a law firm, that law firm was the law firm for one of your elders before you. That’s kind of how this part of the state has been.”
Bamberg’s news release was a shot across the bow for PMPED, which was founded by Murdaugh’s great-grandfather.
The formidable and feared law firm has a reputation of winning large settlements and jury awards for its clients. Its influence over law enforcement and politics in the 14th Judicial Circuit — which encompasses Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties — is long-standing and significant.
“It’s a powerful institution that has existed,” Bamberg said. “You’re talking about going back in time when my great-granddaddy was sharecropping, picking cotton for people. It’s an institution that has controlled and dominated. And people have always been afraid to buck these types of institutions.”
Up until Bamberg’s news release, lawyers from across the state have been very careful about what they’ll say about the firm in public, but behind the scenes have routinely expressed shock and, in some cases, disbelief that the situation was able to occur for so long, apparently unchecked.
The firm says it, too, is an alleged victim of Murdaugh and even filed a lawsuit against him in October that stated it had not uncovered Murdaugh’s scheme until September 2, 2021.
The lawsuit was filed just one day after Columbia attorney Eric Bland published documents showing PMPED’s involvement in the botched Gloria Satterfield settlement, in which Murdaugh is accused of leading a scheme to steal $4.3 million in settlement money from the family of the woman who helped raise his children.
“It is very hard to believe that nobody in PMPED management had any idea Murdaugh was doing this,” Bamberg said. “The business owed a duty to my client and others as its customers, no different than the same claims lawyers like us make against other business defendants we sue. My client’s money wasn’t stolen from Murdaugh’s personal account — it was withdrawn from the firm’s in broad daylight.”
The Alleged Victims
In June 2016, Murdaugh allegedly told his client Johnny Bush — who had suffered “catastrophic injuries” in a vehicle accident — that he had spent $100,000 of his settlement money on accident reconstruction for Bush’s case. Instead, Murdaugh had a check written for $95,000 to “Forge,” under the guise that the money was for Bush’s “structured funds.” He then used the money for himself, according to the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office.
Two of Murdaugh’s 48 financial charges are related to Bush’s case — one for breach of trust and the other for using the computer for the purpose of committing a crime.
Bamberg told FITSNews on Monday that Bush, whom he is now representing, was contacted by law enforcement and told that Murdaugh had allegedly stolen a part of his settlement money.
Bush was able to get his $95,000 back from PMPED, Bamberg said, but the firm didn’t account for interest in repaying him the missing money.
“That doesn’t make anyone whole,” Bamberg said.
Bush sought Bamberg’s help after this.
Bamberg likens PMPED’s solution for Bush’s loss to the idea of marching into a bank and telling them he’d like a $95,000 loan that he’ll be paying back without interest.
“They’re going to call security and have me escorted out because they’re going to think I lost my mind,” he said.
Between February and July 2020, a man named Christopher Anderson came to Alex Murdaugh for help. Anderson, of Hampton County, was hurt on the job and was supposed to receive a $750,000 check for his injuries, according to court documents.
Through his “Forge account” Murdaugh stole the $750,000 from Anderson and told him that the money was being held in an annuity account for structured settlements, according to the indictment.
When law enforcement informed Anderson about the alleged crime, he was able to get his money back from PMPED but less Murdaugh’s 40 percent fee.
“It blows my mind that under the eye of the firm, which owes a duty to this individual and others, that two years later, law enforcement tells them that they’re missing $750,000. And when they come in to get their money, because every penny of that belong to them, the firm who says they had nothing to do with anything takes a $300,000 legal fee. That is just not OK,” Bamberg said.
Bamberg also told FITSNews about two disturbing incidents he said happened to former clients of Murdaugh.
In one instance, when an attorney at the firm learned that a former client was now being represented by Bamberg, he called that person and finished the call by telling them “I’ll see you in court.”
“The client is like, ‘Well, what exactly do you mean by that?’ And it’s, ‘Yeah, the lawyer you got said he’s suing my firm, so I’ll see you in court,'” Bamberg said. “That’s not appropriate. That is indicative of part of the problem here. … That comment was received a certain way by my client. It did come off as though it was semi-intimidation slash ‘do you really want to do this?’ And that comment was reported to the appropriate authorities.”
In another incident, Bamberg said a former client of Murdaugh received a call from Murdaugh one week after he was allegedly shot in what he said was a “murder for hire” plot and days after it was announced that the state Supreme Court had suspended his license to practice law.
At the time, Murdaugh was allegedly detoxing in a rehab facility out of state.
Murdaugh was calling the client to tell her that he had secured a settlement for her case, Bamberg said.
“How? How?” Bamberg said about the alleged phone call from rehab. “It is literally mind-boggling.”
Bamberg told FITSNews that lawsuits against PMPED could be coming soon, which could include a class action suit.
“Ain’t nobody about to punk my clients,” Bamberg said.
Making Victims Whole and Murdaugh’s Bond Hearing
Murdaugh was arrested Oct. 14 and is currently being held at the Richland County Detention Center on a $7 million bond.
In an effort to get their client out of jail, at Murdaugh’s Dec. 13 bond hearing, attorneys state Sen. Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin used the idea that the victims were being “made whole” as supporting evidence for Murdaugh’s release.
They told the judge that 10 of the victims in the 12 indictments against Murdaugh had already been “made whole” by PMPED or “others.”
Included in that was a $4.3 million “confession of judgment” that Murdaugh had offered to the Satterfield family shortly before the hearing.
Since the hearing, it’s become clear that some of the alleged victims that Murdaugh’s attorneys were referring to don’t feel like they’ve been “made whole,” and instead feel like they’ve been taken advantage of again.
“There are things that should have been explained to them,” Bamberg said, adding that PMPED’s former clients have the right to independent counsel and must be given a reasonable amount of time to seek outside counsel.
“I honestly believe that if people had the correct information, none of them would have just accepted these checks,” Bamberg said.
Bamberg said he’s encouraged by the bravery the alleged victims have shown by coming forward.
“People here are hardworking,” Bamberg said. “They’re good, honest folks. And they’ve had to effectively fight for everything they had in life.”
“It’s a new day,” he said. “I happy to see people standing up for themselves.”
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].
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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