By MANDY MATNEY, WILL FOLKS and LIZ FARRELL
Judge Alison Lee, who presides over the state grand jury, set bond Thursday morning at $100,000 surety bond — with the ability to pay 10 percent — for the first alleged co-conspirator to be indicted in Alex Murdaugh’s financial schemes.
Suspended Beaufort attorney Cory Fleming — Murdaugh’s best friend and the godfather of his oldest son, Buster — was indicted last week on 18 counts for his alleged role in the theft of $4.3 million from the family of the woman who helped raise Murdaugh’s two sons.
Prosecutor Creighton Waters from the South Carolina Attorney’s General Office, told Lee about the allegations against Fleming, noting that at the time of the alleged thefts Fleming was facing severe financial problems and had very little money in his account.
Waters also said that “Fleming has not in anyway cooperated with this investigation.”
But Waters was careful to point out that “Cory Fleming and Alex Murdaugh are two different people.”
Fleming attended the hearing via live feed from the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia, where he was booked early Thursday morning, one week after he was indicted and just hours before the hearing.
His wife, Eve, his parents and a cousin attended the hearing virtually and sat behind his attorney, Deborah Barbier.
Barbier, who said she had known Fleming for 30 years and was ”proud” to represent him, painted a picture of Fleming as an innocent man, a family man and a stellar member of the Beaufort County community.
“I can’t tell you how many people approach me every week to offer their support of Cory and that is throughout the state,” she said. “He has friends who have been extremely supportive, neighbors, the Beaufort community, the law enforcement community…. They know he’s not a criminal.”
She argued that her client deserved a personal recognizance bond.
“Fleming is in no way a flight risk. He is an absolutely no danger to the community,” she said. “He has zero criminal history. He has been a resident of South Carolina for most of his life. He grew up here and in Georgia. He was educated in South Carolina. He got married in South Carolina. He has raised a family in South Carolina and he has practiced law here for approximately 28 years.”
Barbier argued that Fleming has “led an exemplary life” and has no criminal history. She said that if the hearing weren’t virtual, there would be a courtroom full of supporters on his side.
She also told the court that Fleming is a man of ”limited means” who made full restitution.
Barbier said that her client “has known about this investigation for six months” and “has cooperated in the production of documents.” She reminded the court that Fleming reimbursed the Satterfield family less than a month after a lawsuit was filed against him.
After Barbier spoke, Waters again addressed the court, disputing that Fleming was helpful to the investigation in any way. He said that Fleming only made restitution “after everything came to light and the writing was on the wall.”
In 2018, Fleming appears to have been hand-picked by Murdaugh to represent the surviving sons of Gloria Satterfield, who died after a trip and fall incident at his Moselle hunting property in Islandton.
“He is a personal embarrassment to our profession,” Satterfield attorney Eric Bland told the court Thursday morning.
Before announcing her decision, Lee also noted that the allegations against Fleming were a ”blemish” on the profession but emphasized that they were still allegations.
Waters too weighed in on the effects of Fleming’s alleged acts.
“I believe in the system … because of that belief in the system is why these allegations here are so important … because they go to the heart of the system,” Waters said. “And of course, people entrusted with power to act in any system can abuse it. And that’s allegedly what we have here — a corruption of the system”.
Waters asked for a bond of $25,000 per felony charge, which would have amounted to $450,000, as well as all the ”standard” conditions, such as relinquishing his passport and being barred from leaving the state.
Fleming must surrender his passport to the state and is barred from leaving South Carolina without express permission from the court.
A look at the Fleming-Murdaugh connection by FITSnews has revealed that the Satterfield case is one of many that Fleming is suspected of having been chosen to represent Murdaugh’s interests rather than those of his clients.
In the Satterfield scheme, Murdaugh and Fleming have been charged with criminal conspiracy “for 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 a Wednesday news release from South Carolina Attorney General Alan 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.
Fleming is accused of stealing $3,623,431.95 from Satterfield’s sons. He faces five more charges than Murdaugh for the Satterfield scheme.
All told, Murdaugh faces 75 charges in the alleged theft of $8,492,888.31, as well as three charges related to a roadside ”suicide for hire” scheme in September.
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