In the last month, Pamela Pinckney has been made aware that her former attorney Alex Murdaugh allegedly stole nearly $1 million from her family during the worst time of her life. She spoke with FITSNews about how devastated she was to learn that her attorney — someone she trusted to handle both her son Hakeem’s car accident case and his wrongful death case — stole from her family when they knew how much Hakeem suffered.
“The way I feel now is like when my son just passed away and I’m just going through the motions all over again. That’s just how deep the pain is,” Pamela said. “But it’s two times harder, because I’m going through it a second phase again. I never thought I would have to relive this again.”
Attorney Justin Bamberg, who is representing at least eight victims Alex Murdaugh allegedly stole from, has been peeling back the layers in the Pinckney case since he was hired as their attorney in December.
In 2009, Pamela Pinckney and her son were in a horrific car accident that left them both with catastrophic injuries. Her son, Hakeem Pinckney, a deaf man who was a recognized athlete at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, suffered atrocious injuries in the crash that paralyzed him from the neck down and made him dependent on a ventilator.
After being released from the ICU at MUSC months after the accident, Hakeem was placed into Pruitt Health North Augusta, a long-term care facility at which he was making strides to regain some function. His mother noted that six months before passing away, he was conscious, could communicate and could breath on his own for short periods of time.
As FITSNews previously reported, Alex Murdaugh and his alleged co-conspirators worked together in a fashion similar to the alleged Gloria Satterfield settlement scheme — to defraud the Pinckney family of funds gained from a lawsuit they filed on Hakeem’s behalf in 2010. The same players were involved in this case — Cory Fleming, Alex Murdaugh, and Palmetto State Bank.
Keep in mind, this scheme was ongoing while Hakeem was still alive, albeit paralyzed, deaf and breathing through a ventilator.
“To know that you put your trust and your emphasis in someone who says they have your best interest in mind, and looks you in your face, and tells you and your entire family that they have your best interest — that you got us 100 percent,” Pamela said. “And then you go and you steal from us, even though you got paid through legal fees to work the case, then you turn around and you steal on top of that from the family. And my son is deceased. That really it tears me apart literally every day.”
Bamberg got emotional when he spoke to FITSNews about this case.
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“If you’d steal money from somebody in Hakeem’s position, what wouldn’t you do? That’s what I’ve been thinking about— what wouldn’t you do?” Bamberg said. “Because that’s cold. That is cold as hell…”
That lawsuit — which allowed Murdaugh and his conspirators to allegedly steal around $1 million from Hakeem’s family, settled on October 7, 2011, according to court documents.
Just four days later, Hakeem’s ventilator was apparently left unplugged for 30 minutes before Pruitt Health-North Augusta employees noticed.
“Can you imagine being Hakeem and your ventilator’s unplugged? And you’re sitting there and you can’t talk and you can’t move and you can’t hear, but you’re suffocating,” Bamberg said. “It gets me so upset to think about and put myself in his body in that moment. And then to know that his mom has to think about that too.”
He died later that day on October 11, 2011 in a nearby hospital. He was 21 years old.
Hakeem’s mother hired PMPED attorney Lee Cope to handle a wrongful death claim against Pruitt Health-North Augusta on her behalf.
Alex Murdaugh appeared to be involved in the wrongful death lawsuit, according to documents obtained by FITSNews. The documents show that Alex’s office staff prepared all the requests for documentation and did it in his name, not Lee’s name.
Pamela Pinckney told FITSNews that she filed the lawsuit not to get money, but to get answers for her son’s death. She never got that.
“Up until this day, they have never really told me what happened to my son,” Pinckney said.
While the order approving the wrongful death settlement was signed in 2016, it was filed only last week in the Aiken County public index after Bamberg began asking questions about the case.
This is another striking similarity to the Satterfield case — missing documents that suddenly reappear and court filing protocol not being followed.
Bamberg is still investigating Hakeem’s wrongful death settlement to see if money is missing there. However, the facts we know about his death so far are disturbing and heartbreaking.
Pamela Pinckney told FITSNews she would like to see an investigation into her son’s death.
“I just want to know what happened so I can move forward,” Pamela said.
However, Pamela was clear with FITSNews — she doesn’t have any hate in her heart toward Alex Murdaugh.
“I want to say is that my heart is pure and my conscious is clear. I don’t have any grudges. I don’t hate Alex Murdock. I’ve forgive him,” she said. “I forgive him for everything that he’s has caused me and my family to go through physically, mentally, emotionally, I have forgiven him, but I can never forget this.”
FITSNews has not seen or found any evidence suggesting that there was foul play involved in Hakeem’s death. We do plan on investigating his death and finding out what happened and how exactly he died.
Who was Hakeem?
Hakeem Pinckney was a resilient man and an inspiration to so many.
Hakeem’s mother Pamela told FITSNews that Hakeem as a small child always wanted to learn how the world worked. How he always had a special curiosity for the world.
At the age of 3, the Pinckney family discovered Hakeem had profound hearing loss. But that didn’t deter Hakeem and his mother recalls being so proud of him for developing great athletic skills in football, basketball, soccer, track and volleyball throughout school.
His teacher throughout elementary and middle school, Debbie Dawsey-Davis, spoke to FITSNews recollecting how much fun he was as a child — always laughing and making friends.
“He just got along with everyone you know,” she said. “He was polite and fun … and he always had the most handsome smile.”
Dawsey-Davis remembered how Hakeem “would never complain.”
“I don’t think he ever complained about anything,” she said. “He was just a wonderful kid to be around.”
In seventh grade, Hakeem transferred to the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind where his passion for pursuing excellence propelled him to help lead his school to a national football championship — honored by classmates and the South Carolina State Senate.
Pamela Pinckney told FITSNews that her son’s dream was to follow his passion and hone his aptitude for sports to land a coveted role in the NFL.
When remembering Hakeem, Pamela shared that it was the “impact he put on people’s lives” that mattered the most to her.
She proudly said that Hakeem believed, “there’s no limitation on whatever kind of disability that you may have in life, that the sky’s the limit. You can do whatever you want to do. You just put your mind to it.”
Even during the most challenging times, Hakeem’s spirit to care for others was apparent. After the car accident, amidst immense pain and limits on how he was able to communicate, Pamela remembers that Hakeem wanted to know if she was OK — as her injuries were also severe.
Six months before passing away, his mother recalled how, “they were weaning him off then [ventilator], how he got off the [ventilator], how he’d be off the [ventilator] for a couple hours a day” and how “he was doing good”.
Pamela said she misses her son every day.
“I just miss him being here,” she said. “He was always helping with things, if someone was doing something that he could do, he would say ‘I got this, sit down.’ That’s just the type of kid he was.”
Who will be held accountable?
Bamberg said he believes that Murdaugh will be indicted for the Pinckney case.
Earlier this month, FITSNews exclusively reported that Murdaugh’s co-conspirators will likely be indicted soon, according to sources close to the situation.
What makes this case different from the others is that it appears to show a pattern of criminal activity between Alex Murdaugh, Cory Fleming, and Palmetto State Bank.
To recap, in 2011, Murdaugh was representing multiple passengers in the accident including Hakeem, who was still alive at the time he hired Murdaugh, according to Bamberg. Working as Hakeem’s attorney, Murdaugh sent Pamela to Fleming of Moss, Kuhn and Fleming (now known as Moss and Kuhn Law) and convinced her that Fleming would be the best person to represent her as they collectively sued a tire company.
Sound familiar? Because it should.
In 2018, Murdaugh recruited his best friend (Fleming) to sue him on behalf of Gloria Satterfield’s estate. He allegedly convinced Gloria Satterfield’s sons to sign over their personal representative rights to Palmetto State Bank employee Chad Westendorf so that Fleming wouldn’t be legally obligated to tell the Satterfield family what was going on with the settlement. The scheme was uncovered by attorneys Eric Bland and Ronald Richter, who represent the Satterfield family.
Then, Alex allegedly convinced Pamela Pinckney that she needed a banker to handle the financials of the lawsuit, which is when they appointed Russell Laffitte, CEO of Palmetto State Bank, as the conservator over Hakeem’s case.
Again, this should sound familiar.
In the Satterfield settlement, Murdaugh allegedly convinced the Satterfields that they should appoint Westendorf to handle the money which was ultimately stolen.
Bamberg said he’s uncovered a paper trail of checks that were supposed to go to Pamela — directly implicating both Palmetto State Bank and Cory Fleming in the crime.
One of the first things Bamberg saw while looking through financial documents was a check for $89,000 written in 2017 made payable to PMPED — when the money was received in 2011.
“If Cory was her lawyer, then why didn’t he just call her and give her the check? Why was it made available to PMPED in the first place?” Bamberg said.
Hmmm … again that sounds familiar.
Fleming had his law license suspended this past fall and was fired by his law firm days after he was exposed in the media in October.
Bamberg also saw a huge red flag when he found a $309,581 check written directly to Palmetto State Bank.
“In this one, the bank cannot say ‘this is not on us,’” Bamberg said. “The check went straight to the bank.”
Laffitte, the CEO of the bank, was paid a $60,000 conservatorship fee, according to Bamberg.
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.
Laffitte was fired two weeks ago after FITSNews wrote this story and the bank was aware of what Bamberg had uncovered.
Will this case be the one to put Fleming and Laffitte in handcuffs?
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 tips to [email protected].