The lawyer who represented the family of Alex Murdaugh’s longtime housekeeper after she died in a trip and fall accident in 2018 has been indicted in the scheme to defraud his clients of a $4.3 million settlement he never even told them they had won.
Cory Howerton Fleming of Beaufort — Alex Murdaugh’s best friend and the godfather to his oldest son Buster — was indicted last week by the state grand jury, according to a Wednesday news release from South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson.
Cory Fleming was booked at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center Thursday morning, according to the jail log. This is the same jail where Murdaugh has been since October.
Both Fleming and Murdaugh were suspended from practicing law this past fall. Recently, Fleming’s law license was also suspended in Georgia.
The two men were both charged last week with “conspiring to surreptitiously give Murdaugh a share of Fleming’s fee from the multimillion dollar settlement of civil claims against Murdaugh resulting from the death of Gloria Satterfield,” according to Wilson’s news release.
The State Grand jury also charged Murdaugh with three counts of false statement or misrepresentation in connection with an insurance transaction over $50,000 in the superseding indictment.
“The new charges arise out of the alleged scheme to defraud multiple insurance companies in the course of surreptitiously delivering to Murdaugh a share of the proceeds resulting from the settlement of the claims against him,” Wilson’s office said in the press release.
A virtual bond hearing is scheduled for Fleming at 9 a.m. Thursday in front of Judge Alison Lee.
Fleming’s indictment represents the first time one of Murdaugh’s alleged co-conspirators has been charged in his financial schemes.
In total, he has been indicted on 18 charges for defrauding victims of $3,623,431.95; while Alex Murdaugh has been indicted on a total 75 charges for defrauding victims of more than $8,492,888.31, according to Wilson’s release.
As FITSNews exclusively reported earlier this year, indictments were just a matter of time for the alleged co-conspirators in Murdaugh’s financial schemes. However, in January and February, the state grand jury faced delays caused by COVID, weather events, scheduling conflicts – along with the very practical fact that Alex Murdaugh is not the only case in town.
”It’s a golden day for justice,” Eric Bland, attorney for the Satterfield family, said Wednesday morning. ”I’m very grateful for the work that this grand jury has done and continues to do. Obviously, the Attorney General is dogged in (his) pursuit of justice … I’m very satisfied that our profession is weeding out people and lawyers to mistreat their clients and violate the rules of professional conduct.”
Fleming’s bond hearing is expected to be held later this week, according to our sources.
“I think the grand jury has spoken loudly and clearly that Cory Fleming was not another one of Alex Murdaugh’s victims and did not believe his defense that he was too trusting of Alex,” Bland said. ”Justice may move slow but when it moves it comes crashing down like a tidal wave.”
Murdaugh and Fleming have both been charged with criminal conspiracy “for conspiring to surreptitiously give Murdaugh a share of Fleming’s fee from the multi-million dollar settlement of civil claims against Murdaugh resulting from the death of Gloria Satterfield,” according to the press release from Wilson’s Office.
In addition to the conspiracy charge, Fleming was charged with the following counts in the Satterfield scheme:
- 3 counts of false statement or misrepresentation in connection with an Insurance transaction of $50,000 or more
- 4 counts of breach of trust with fraudulent intent of $10,000 or more
- 3 counts of Breach of trust with fraudulent intent between $2,000-$10,000
- 3 counts of money laundering more than $100,000
- 3 counts of money laundering between $300- $20,000
- 1 count of computer crime of more than $10,000.
Click below to read the new indictment…
To many, Fleming’s indictment was a long time coming …
Frick and Frack
Gloria Satterfield helped raise Alex and Maggie Murdaugh‘s sons and worked for the family for more than 20 years. According to sources, Satterfield doted on — but sometimes feared — the boys. She was affectionately called “Go Go” by Paul, who made her laugh.
In February 2018, she reportedly fell and hit her head when she tripped over one — or more, depending on whose account — of the Murdaughs’ dogs at their Moselle hunting property, where Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were murdered last June.
Satterfield loved the family as if they were her own, according to her obituary.
During the time she worked for the Murdaughs, she and her sons experienced periods of homelessness.
She died virtually penniless.
At Satterfield’s funeral, Alex Murdaugh told her two young adult sons that he would take care of them and instructed them to sue him, according to several accounts.
Murdaugh told the two boys that he would set them up with an attorney — Cory Fleming of the Moss, Kuhn, Fleming law firm in Beaufort.
(The firm, for obvious reasons, deleted “Fleming” from its name this past fall.)
Murdaugh left out an important fact about Fleming, though.
They were, for all practical purposes, extended family members.
Both men knew each other growing up and went to University of South Carolina and University of South Carolina School of Law together. They hung out with each other. They were entered into the bar at the same time. Together, they went to work at the 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office, where Murdaugh’s father served as solicitor — and his grandfather and great-grandfather before that.
Then they worked at Moss and Kuhn together.
Later, the two would go on to have their law licenses suspended by the South Carolina Supreme Court at the same time — Alex’s in September, Cory’s in October.
Their Frick-and-Frack act is a now familiar one.
Ties To Four Cases
Cory Fleming is connected to four major cases tied to the Murdaugh Family — Gloria Satterfield, Stephen Smith, Mallory Beach, and Hakeem Pinckney.
In the 2011 Hakeem Pinckney case, Fleming represented Pamela Pinckney after she was severely injured in a car crash that left her son Hakeem paralyzed and dependent on a ventilator.
Alex Murdaugh was representing Hakeem and other passengers in the vehicle, who were plaintiffs in the lawsuit, when he recommended that Pamela, who was the defendant, use Fleming as her attorney.
In the Pinckney case, Fleming played a key role as Pamela’s attorney.
Ultimately, with Fleming’s alleged involvement, Murdaugh is accused of stealing $1 million from the Pinckney family’s settlement after Hakeem’s ventilator was mysteriously unplugged.
In the 2015 Stephen Smith case, Fleming’s former client Patrick Wilson was suspiciously injected into the investigation after a trooper started to zero in on Buster Murdaugh as a potential person of interest and just weeks after an article in the Hampton County Guardian increased pressure surrounding the investigation.
Wilson — whose stepfather told police that Shawn Connelly “struck and killed Stephen Smith,” but said the reason he was passing this information on was because Randy Murdaugh told him to call — was never questioned by police.
The 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office — where Alex Murdaugh worked as a volunteer solicitor and his father, grandfather, and great-great grandfather served between 1920 and 2006 — dropped Wilson’s charges after this.
In 2021, SLED opened an investigation into Smith’s death “based on information gathered during the course of the double homicide.”
In 2019, after Paul Murdaugh allegedly drove his parents’ boat into a bridge in Beaufort County, killing 19-year-old Mallory Beach and injuring his passengers, Alex Murdaugh employed this same one-two punch of self-service.
Before Paul was charged with three felony counts of Boating Under the Influence — when investigators were trying to prove that Paul, and not his friend Connor Cook, had been driving at the time of the crash — Alex Murdaugh recommended Fleming to the Cook family … “to take care of their boy” … and never mentioned their relationship.
It wasn’t until the Cook family saw a framed photo of the two men together in Fleming’s office that they realized they’d been deceived.
Cook and his family — who lived in terror that he would be falsely arrested by law enforcement — would later file a petition in Richland County Court, accusing the Murdaughs and others of conspiring to frame him for the crime.
Wilson and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division continue to this day to investigate potential obstruction of justice charges against Murdaugh, his family members and those in law enforcement who might have aided them in this alleged setup.
FITSNews is continuing to follow all of these investigations.
Meanwhile, serious questions remain about what law enforcement officers appear to have been told that night by witnesses — that Paul was driving — and what they actually recorded in their reports, which was essentially ”It’s a mystery!”
One law enforcement officer’s report, though, accurately reflected what he was told.
Which brings us to another curious connection between Cory Fleming and the boat crash case.
Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputy Stephen Domino was the only one that night to unequivocally identify Paul as the driver.
After this was reported in the news, jokes were made among Beaufort County residents that Domino was going to have to watch his back.
Those jokes ended up being prophetic. In December 2019, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office received an anonymous tip that Domino was buying illegal prescription drugs from a local dealer. An administrative inquiry was opened and the claim was determined to be unfounded.
But then, on July 16, 2020, an inmate at the county detention center — Christopher Ray Smith — was recorded on the jail house phone discussing his sale of drugs to Domino.
Calls made by inmates at the Beaufort County Detention Center are later monitored to by volunteers at 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone’s office.
Smith — who has a long and varied arrest record in Beaufort and Jasper counties that includes drunk driving and drug distribution charges — was found guilty of lying to a law enforcement officer in June 2019.
And in many of his cases, starting in 2016, Smith was represented by Cory Howerton Fleming.
On July 31, 2020, Domino — the one law enforcement officer who could testify that he was told Paul was driving — was fired from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.
A (Dirty) Laundry List of (Alleged) Misdeeds
In the days after the 2019 boat crash, FITSNews news director Mandy Matney — who worked at The Island Packet at the time — discovered a single document in the Hampton County Public Index that indicated Alex Murdaugh was being sued by someone named Chad Westendorf in the death of Gloria Satterfield, and the case had settled for $505,000.
A single document.
It would later become clear why.
At the time, not much else was known beyond the document, including who Gloria Satterfield was.
In a story about Paul Murdaugh’s legal history, Matney noted the case and Fleming’s relationship to the family.
“Cory Fleming represented the woman’s beneficiaries in this case. Fleming has many ties to the Murdaugh family, and spoke at Randolph Murdaugh’s Order of the Palmetto Ceremony last September. Fleming also represented Paul Murdaugh when he was charged with possession of alcohol two years ago when he was 18. (Read the full story here.)
Three days after the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, Matney published a report in FITSNews about the multiple suspicious deaths connected to the Murdaugh family, including Satterfield’s death.
Months later, all hell broke loose.
After Alex Murdaugh’s messy roadside “suicide for hire plot,” the shocking and disturbing details about the Satterfield family’s settlement began to emerge.
What was believed at first to be a simple — but wholly unethical — conflict of interest in representation, turned out to be much worse than that.
The Satterfield family hired Columbia attorney Eric Bland of the Bland Richter law firm, which specializes in legal malpractice claims.
And Bland, who hails from Philadelphia, came onto the scene like Rocky Balboa.
The Satterfield case went down hard in the first round and cracked wide open.
All that skeletons that Alex Murdaugh had crammed into his closet could now come out.
Bland discovered that not only was the family deceived into hiring Fleming, the settlement was actually for $4.3 million — not $505,000, which is what Fleming filed with the court — and the family received zero dollars and zero cents from it.
SLED opened an investigation into how that could be; within a month warrants were signed.
Murdaugh was arrested in Orlando, Florida, on Oct. 14 and booked into Richland County Detention Center in Columbia two days later. He has since been indicted on 71 additional counts of stealing from clients and others — nine of them for the Satterfield theft. He continues to be held on a $7 million bond.
In the meantime, it became more and more clear that the alleged scheme could not have been pulled off without the cooperation of Murdaugh’s friends.
Under every rock, there was a snake.
The (dirty) laundry list included the revelations that:
- Murdaugh had convinced Gloria Satterfield’s son Tony to hand over all authority to Westendorf, a Vice President at Palmetto State Bank who was hand-picked by Murdaugh to serve as personal representative for the estate. This effectively removed the Satterfield sons from the case altogether.
- a $30,000 payment was made to Westendorf in exchange for his incuriosity, ability to follow orders and a few signatures on behalf of a family he had never met (a family with whom he had never even spoken). Westendorf was legally entitled to $2,500 for his “services” and yet paid many times more that.
- two fake business accounts had been opened at Bank of America by Alex Murdaugh “doing business as Forge,” a name chosen to mimic that of a legitimate brokerage firm that invests and manages settlement funds. Mysteriously, Murdaugh was somehow able to escape the bank’s stringent protocols for opening these accounts.
- Alex Murdaugh, the defendant in the case, handled tasks for Fleming — such as the preparing and delivery of the personal representative forms and disbursement sheets, as well as sending out correspondence related to the case — while representing himself to be acting on behalf of his law firm, Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth and Detrick
- a disbursement of $505,000 was made — or was it $475,000 … who knows? because the figures weren’t consistent — despite there being no signed order on file at the court, as required by law.
- there appears to have been an utter lack of accountability on the part of the judge, Carmen Mullen, who signed the order for the balance of the settlement, which was $3.8 million. Mullen — who had recused herself from all matters related to the boat crash weeks earlier — is accused of knowingly permitting Fleming to hold off on the required filing of the document to “avoid publicity in the boat crash”; allowing Murdaugh’s name to be removed from the case entirely without a signed order; not questioning Westendorf to make sure he was well-informed and agreeing to the settlement with sound mind; signing off on suspicious expenses and fees that ought to have prompted further scrutiny; and holding a hearing without the defense attorney present. She has since been reported to the South Carolina Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel and the (flaccid) Commission on Judicial Conduct.
It turned out that the Satterfield case was an advanced form of cancer.
And every organ of South Carolina’s justice system is infected.
Wherever He Goes, There He Is …
In the annals of the 14th Judicial Circuit’s legal history and as far as defense attorneys go, Cory Fleming pops up in the usual places … next to suspected murderers and drug dealers, adjacent to public scandal and sniffing around car wrecks for money.
According to multiple sources, Fleming is known for exploiting his deep connections to local law enforcement, in particular — and predictably — the Solicitor’s Office, where Alex Murdaugh seems to have been the sole badge-carrying (and badge-flashing) “volunteer assistant solicitor” for more than a decade.
Local attorneys and law enforcement officers say he was known to push boundaries behind the scenes, such as allegedly obtaining clients through questionable means or allegedly seeking special favors from certain law enforcement officers to go outside protocol and retrieve clients’ seized weapons from evidence lockers.
When Fleming was an assistant solicitor in 1995, shortly after passing the bar, a story appeared in The (Sumter) Item about a Driving Under the Influence case he prosecuted on Hilton Head Island.
The case — the outcome of which drew media attention and criticism from Mothers Against Drunk Driving — is notable in that it defied common logic.
Both Fleming and the defense attorney agreed to move the case — of which there are few details — from Circuit Court to the court of Magistrate C.L. “Bubba” Smith.
This, in and of itself, is not unusual.
But Smith owned a liquor store in Hardeeville at the time.
And was on the record as wanting the law changed so that drivers would not have their licenses taken for declining a Breathalyzer test.
Also a year earlier, Smith’s son was paralyzed from the waist down when he was riding in a Ridgeland police car driven by an allegedly drunk police officer.
Neither Fleming nor the defense attorney had asked Smith to recuse himself, and again seem to have chosen Smith’s courtroom for this case.
Predictably, Smith ruled that “it was punishment enough” to take the license of a driver who refuses to take a breathalyzer test after an arrest for DUI, according to the story.
“Punishing the driver a second time through a DUI conviction violates the double-jeopardy clause of the Constitution, the magistrate ruled.”
Fleming, who lost his case, is quoted in the story as saying, “I had no feeling or thought there would be any problem with impartiality with the judge.”
The defendant’s name was not included in the story.
After leaving the public sector and getting hired at Moss and Kuhn in Beaufort, Fleming was hired by the family of a man who was accused in a double homicide on Lady’s Island in the summer of 2002. When the Solicitor’s Office decided to seek the death penalty, Fleming was appointed lead counsel by 14th Circuit Judge Jackson Gregory.
Paul Rhoads, 30, was one of two men charged in the killings. The case, according to Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner at the time, was one of “cocaine, money and greed.”
Rhoads pleaded guilty to two counts of murder in February 2005 and was sentenced to 42 years in prison. He would later submit a request for post-conviction relief saying that he received ineffective counsel, that his attorneys had conflicts of interest and “advised him incorrectly.”
Rhoads accused Fleming, in particular, of commenting to him in “a very sarcastic manner” that the parents of one of the murder victims were “no longer interested in buy property through Fred Kuhn Realty” because of Fleming’s involvement in Rhoads’ case. Fred Kuhn Realty was owned by the father of one of Fleming’s law partners.
He also said Fleming had mistakenly informed him that he would be eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of his sentence. In South Carolina, murder sentences are not eligible for reductions.
Rhoads’ sentencing was upheld.
The Calvert Case
In 2008, Cory Fleming became associated with the infamous Calverts case on Hilton Head Island when he was hired to represent the only named person of interest in their disappearance.
Elizabeth and John Calvert went missing on March 3, 2008, from Harbour Town in Sea Pines, where the yacht they had lived on part-time was moored. They are presumed dead but their bodies have not been found to this day.
Three days after the Calverts’ disappearance, their accountant, Dennis Gerwing, hired Fleming to represent him, telling an ex-girlfriend that he was the last to see them alive. It was later discovered that Gerwing — who worked for The Club Group, a property management company — had been embezzling millions of dollars from the Calverts and other clients.
Days after hiring Fleming, Gerwing killed himself in the locked bathroom of a timeshare in Sea Pines. His death has been the subject of much speculation; and rumors persist that Gerwing had become entangled in something more nefarious than simple theft.
According to a report in The Island Packet at the time, Fleming is the one who sent out the alert the next afternoon that Gerwing was not answering his phone. He called The Club Group’s attorneys at Novit & Scarminach to tell them.
Mark King, Gerwing’s boss and the owner of The Club Group, and attorneys Dan Saxon and Peter Strauss went to the timeshare where Gerwing had been staying because investigators had torn up his house in their search for forensic evidence.
The men were able to enter the timeshare, but not the bathroom.
Saxon called 911.
Gerwing was discovered naked in the bathtub with several self-inflicted wounds using a cheap serrated steak knife.
“This is as difficult a story as I’ve ever been involved in,” Fleming said to the Packet.
The next year, Fleming was back in the news because of his connection to yet another embezzlement scandal, this time involving the Beaufort County Clerk of Court, her husband and money that was being misappropriated.
‘Analogies of Violence’
In July 2009, the public was made aware that a state ethics investigation was under way involving then-Clerk of Court Elizabeth Smith. The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office released an incident report from Smith’s deputy clerk Janice Young who accused Smith’s husband, Drug Court Judge Manning Smith, of threatening her a month earlier.
According to reports at the time, Manning Smith was upset that Young had shared financial information with the county’s finance director related to the ongoing ethics investigation into his wife’s use of public money.
Young said that Manning Smith told her “handing your boss over was like me saying, ‘I’m going to murder you, Janice, shoot you in the head and spatter your brains all over the sidewalk.'”
Manning Smith told investigators that he did not threaten Young and that she had misconstrued his words, saying he often speaks in “analogies of violence.”
Young was so worried by Manning Smith that she told deputies she had changed her locks and was sleeping with a gun in her bed and a chair pushed up against her bedroom door. But she declined to press charges.
“The guy is a good shot. He’s an excellent shot and he knows that I know that,” Young told investigators.
Manning Smith confirmed with deputies that he was a “superb” pistol shot.
From there, the situation went further down hill.
One week later, 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone announced that Elizabeth Smith had been indicted on embezzling more than $23,500 from public accounts, which she had used to purchase insurance policies for family members and to pay her mortgage on a vacation home. She resigned shortly before the announcement.
Soon after this, the South Carolina Supreme Court stripped Manning Smith of his judgeship, and Elizabeth Smith was further accused of taking federal money that was intended for child support cases and instead diverting it to the Beaufort County Drug Court, which her husband ran.
Drug Court is a pre-trial diversionary program for nonviolent drug offenders that offers them rehabilitation instead of prison time. Across the state, though, these programs were run through the Solicitor’s Offices.
In Beaufort County, though, Drug Court was run through a nonprofit managed by the Smiths, giving Manning Smith sole discretion over its spending.
The court wa started in 2000 by former 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Randolph Murdaugh III using a federal grant with matching dollars from municipalities. It was overseen by 14th Circuit Family Court Judge Gerald Smoak for a year before S.C. Supreme Court Justice Jean Toal appointed Manning Smith to the role, which was unpaid.
Soon after, Manning Smith began lobbying local government bodies to finance the program. At some point, the nonprofit — Beaufort County Problem Solving Courts Inc. — was created and Manning Smith began paying himself a $60,000 a year salary.
By 2009, Beaufort County was the only county in the 14th Circuit that still had a Drug Court.
As the scandal was unfolding, Solicitor Stone told The Island Packet that he had “so little faith” in the program that he rarely referred cases there. In 2008, Smith’s court heard two cases. In 2009, the program had 14 participants.
Nonetheless, the county and municipalities contributed thousands of dollars to the Drug Court annually with no authority over how the money was spent or how the court operated.
The court operated, it turns out, with very little oversight.
Elizabeth Smith was found guilty in 2010 in state court of embezzlement and misconduct in office but was spared jail time. The day after her trial ended, though, she was indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly using $338,500 in federal child support enforcement funds to pay the salary of her husband between January 2006 and June 2009. She pleaded guilty to one count of conversion of public money in 2011, and U.S. District Judge Sol Blatt her to six months of house arrest.
“After reading the sentence given to former Beaufort County Clerk of Court Elizabeth Smith, I was in shock at first and then did a slow burn. Before moving to the South, I had always heard of the ‘good old boy mentality’ and believed it was Hollywood nonsense until now … What is going on here? Is it whom you know?,” a letter to the editor published in The Island Packet read.
On Nov. 8, 2009, The Island Packet published an editorial deriding the seven members who made up the board of directors of the Smiths’ nonprofit.
They included Beaufort County Family Court Judge Peter Fuge, Beaufort attorneys Bruce Marshall and Cory Fleming, Hilton Head attorney Sam Bauer, Beaufort County Planning Commission member E. Parker Sutler, Beaufort artist Robert Killian-Dawson, University of South Carolina Beaufort professor Belinda Eggen.
“These board members must answer questions about this nonprofit, starting with why it was created. When board members were contracted … most wouldn’t comment or didn’t return calls.”
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