On the same day FITSNews exclusively reported the bombshell news that direct physical evidence linked Alex Murdaugh to the murders of his wife and son, multiple sources close to the ongoing investigations into his alleged financial crimes have told us that more indictments are imminent and that they will likely include some of Murdaugh’s alleged co-conspirators.
Murdaugh is being held in lieu of a $7 million bond at Richland County Detention Center. He is currently facing 51 charges, including 48 counts related to an apparent longtime scheme to steal more than $6.2 million from his clients and his former law firm, Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED).
The full extent of Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes is not yet known, but investigators at the South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) appear to be making significant progress identifying former clients who have had settlement money secretly stolen from them.
The alleged scheme is incredibly complex and so far has involved his longtime friend, Beaufort attorney Cory Fleming, as well as at least two high-level employees of Palmetto State Bank (PSB), including bank Vice President Chad Westendorf and the bank’s CEO, Russell Laffitte, sources told FITSNews on Wednesday morning.
Laffitte — like Murdaugh — is a member of a powerful Hampton County family that has, for four generations, loomed large in the community. Murdaugh’s great-grandfather founded PMPED; Laffitte’s family founded PSB.
According to multiple sources, Laffitte was placed on administrative leave by the bank’s board of directors Tuesday. Westendorf remains an employee of PSB. The board of directors is composed mostly of members of the Laffitte family.
Both Laffitte and Westendorf have served as paid personal representatives for the plaintiffs in wrongful death cases tied to Murdaugh and Fleming.
Multiple sources have told FITSNews that Laffitte and Palmetto State Bank are connected to several more cases involving Murdaugh.
Neither Fleming, Westendorf nor Laffitte have been charged with any crimes.
Gloria Satterfield, the woman who helped raise Murdaugh’s children for 20 years, died in February 2018 after a trip and fall at Murdaugh’s Moselle property in Colleton County.
Satterfield’s sons say Murdaugh persuaded them to sue him and told them to use Fleming as their attorney.
Days before a portion of the settlement came through, though, Murdaugh allegedly told Tony Satterfield, who was the personal representative for his mother, that it would be in his and his brother’s best financial interest to use Westendorf as a personal representative instead.
Making Westendorf the personal representative effectively removed Satterfield’s sons from the lawsuit and eliminated Fleming’s obligation to keep them informed about their settlement.
As a result, the Satterfield boys not only received no money, they were unaware they had gotten a $4.3 million settlement from Murdaugh’s insurance policies.
Murdaugh and Fleming allegedly split the attorney’s fee in the case, and Fleming sent the balance of the settlement to Murdaugh, who deposited it into his phony account, according to the indictments against Murdaugh and the Satterfield family’s attorney Eric Bland.
The scheme was discovered in September — largely because of FITSNews director Mandy Matney‘s reporting.
Both Murdaugh’s and Fleming’s licenses to practice law in South Carolina were suspended by the South Carolina Supreme Court this fall.
While Fleming admitted to “material mistakes” in handling the Satterfield settlement, he has maintained that Murdaugh tricked him.
In an eight-minute statement to the judge during his December bond hearing, Murdaugh took a moment from pleading his case to offer Fleming a pass, saying his friend “knew nothing” of the scheme.
Fleming and his former firm, now known as Moss and Kuhn in Beaufort, both settled with the Satterfield family on Oct. 1.
Also on Oct. 1, Westendorf signed a statement that said he had asked his boss Russell Laffitte, CEO of Palmetto State Bank, if Westendorf could serve as personal representative of Satterfield’s estate.
As a personal representative of an estate, Westendorf was in charge of managing the money of the estate and distributing the checks from the settlement. He was also obligated to fulfill his duties as an officer of the court.
When Judge Carmen Mullen approved the $4.3 million settlement in 2019, Westendorf was obligated under court order to distribute $2.8 million to Satterfield’s sons.
“He was supposed to be the backstop if Cory or Alex were doing anything inappropriate, he was supposed to say ‘whoa, whoa whoa… I’m the one distributing the checks and I need to get (Gloria’s sons) their $2.8 million and I have to pay $50,000 to probate court,’” Bland told FITSNews in October.
According to Bland, the probate court typically sends multiple letters and emails asking officers of the court who are handling wrongful death settlements to provide the court updates.
“I didn’t find any letters to Chad (Westendorf) that asked for status reports,” Bland said. “That’s stunning to me.”
Bland said that Westendorf also had duties to communicate with the heirs of the estate. He failed at that, too.
“He didn’t do one thing right in this,” Bland said of Westendorf. “He never communicated to these boys the entire time.”
Westendorf should have caught the “Forge” scheme, according to Bland. Murdaugh and Fleming allegedly claimed they were doing a structured settlement for Satterfield’s sons through a legitimate company called Forge Consulting LLC. Instead, Fleming made checks out to “Forge” after Murdaugh opened up a Bank of America account under that name.
According to Bland, Westendorf didn’t file a single document on the settlement (beyond the initial petition) during his tenure as a personal representative, yet he collected $30,000 for his role. He finally stepped down as personal representative weeks after Bland and Richter filed a lawsuit against him and others for the scheme.
Westendorf received $30,000 to serve as personal representative to the Satterfield family. In early October, he paid the money back to the Satterfield family and was dropped from the lawsuit.
“It’s highway robbery,” Bland said of the money Westendorf collected. “He didn’t do anything. He didn’t file anything. He didn’t manage any money. Nothing.”
In November, PSB settled with the Satterfield family for an undisclosed sum and issued a statement that sought to separate itself from the alleged scheme:
“Although Palmetto State Bank never handled the settlement funds nor was it responsible for the alleged actions of Alex Murdaugh, Palmetto State Bank and its board of directors made the business decision to prioritize ending this matter for the mutual benefit of Ms. Satterfield’s sons, its customers and shareholders, and the Hampton community at large.”
In October, Bland said he found multiple other Hampton County cases where Laffitte acted as the personal representative — and some of those cases involve the Murdaugh law firm and at least one involves Fleming.
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Laffitte has served as a personal representative and conservator for plaintiffs in cases connected to Murdaugh, according to documents.
Sources tell FITSNews that at least five cases have emerged in the investigations thus far in which Laffitte’s involvement is under scrutiny.
Laffitte has worked for Palmetto State Bank since 1997, according to his LinkedIn page.
The bank was founded in 1907, just three years before Randolph Murdaugh Sr. founded the law firm that would later become PMPED.
PSB has nearly $700 million in assets, according to DepositAccounts.com, a banking comparison site.
In 2019, Laffitte was named Independent Banker of the Year by the Independent Banks of South Carolina.
The bank’s website highlights its longtime connection to the Hampton County community:
“Our Board of Directors credit our exceptional growth to the fact that we have never lost sight of what is important to us…our customers. We deliver the kind of service that everyone thought was a thing of the past, because our customers are also our neighbors. … For over 100 years, Palmetto State Bank has served our community. A trusted neighbor, through good times and bad, we’ve been here, lending a hand, helping businesses and families grow. After all, we’re your community bank and we’ve been helping our neighbors since 1907.”
Sources close to the investigations have told FITSNews that we will be learning more about Laffitte’s and Palmetto State Bank’s alleged roles in Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes. Stay tuned.
Will Folks and Mandy Matney contributed to this report.