One month before he was indicted on 18 charges for allegedly helping Alex Murdaugh steal millions of dollars from his dead housekeeper’s family, suspended attorney Cory Fleming made a last-ditch effort to save his law license in Georgia.
Fleming — who represented Gloria Satterfield‘s family in the $4.3 million settlement that was ultimately stolen — has retained Beaufort attorney Thomas Pendarvis in his fight to get his attorney license back in the state of Georgia.
Fleming, a former partner at Moss & Kuhn in Beaufort, South Carolina, has taken a hard fall from grace alongside his best friend Murdaugh in the past six months. Fleming’s South Carolina law license was suspended in October after attorney Eric Bland published a shocking paper trail showing Fleming’s role in the botched settlement. In January, Fleming was suspended from practicing law in Georgia.
Last week, he was indicted on 18 charges for allegedly defrauding Satterfield’s sons Brian Harriott and Tony Satterfield of more than $3.6 million.
During his bond hearing Thursday, Fleming’s criminal attorney Deborah Barbier didn’t go into details about Fleming’s defense for the Satterfield case.
However, a 50-page document by Pendarvis to the State Bar of Georgia that was recently obtained by FITSNews paints a detailed picture of Fleming’s defense in both the Satterfield case and the Connor Cook case.
Considering the fact that prosecutor Creighton Waters said this week that Fleming has not been cooperative with the investigation, it is significant — and interesting — that Fleming would be willing to put his side of the story on record in Georgia, especially in such detail.
The response also includes a stunning letter and screenshot from a text message between Murdaugh and Fleming.
In the document, Pendarvis claimed that Fleming is “simply another victim of the fraud and other professional misconduct by R. Alexander Murdaugh.”
Pendarvis argued to the Georgia Bar that while “there may have been minor, technical violations of some of the South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, Mr. Fleming’s conduct was consistent with the objectives of the South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct.”
Alex And Cory
Fleming went to University of South Carolina for undergrad and the University of South Carolina School of Law. He graduated with Alex Murdaugh. They both sat for the bar together, and passed in the fall of 1994.
“They became close friends during law school,” the letter said.
From there, both Alex and Cory – who have been friends since they were kids – went on to work at the 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office, where Alex’s father was the solicitor.
After a short stint as prosecutors, the two then joined Moss and Kuhn law firm in Beaufort. Cory, whose mother is from Beaufort, would go on to become a named partner and Alex would end up moving to Hampton County to work for his family’s firm Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth and Detrick.
Fleming is Buster Murdaugh’s godfather, while Alex Murdaugh is is the godfather of Fleming’s two kids.
“During their 25+ years of friendship, Mr. Fleming developed a strong, trusting relationship with Mr. Murdaugh never doubting for a moment Mr. Murdaugh’s honesty, trustworthiness, and fitness not only as a lawyer, but also as a friend,” Fleming’s attorney wrote in the letter to the Georgia State Bar.
According to Fleming, their friendship was “destroyed” on Sept. 3, 2021 when he allegedly “first learned” of Murdaugh’s misdeeds. That is the same date when Murdaugh allegedly told his partners about the fraud at PMPED, which is what he said led him to his alleged suicide-for-hire plot the next day.
“As soon as Mr. Fleming heard Mr. (Lee) Cope describe Mr. Murdaugh’s use of a ‘FORGE’ account to secret money away from PMPED he realized he had been duped by one of his best friends — Mr. Murdaugh,” Pendarvis wrote in the document.
Though Fleming says he first learned of the fraud in early September, he did not report any of this to law enforcement nor did he contact the Satterfield family, which Waters noted in the bond hearing.
In early September, Eric Bland contacted Fleming twice asking him to produce documents on the Satterfield case. Fleming didn’t respond to either request, which prompted Bland to file a lawsuit on behalf of the Satterfield family.
Is it possible Cory didn’t know that Alex had (allegedly) stolen from his own clients?
Prosecutors say that Alex Murdaugh was the mastermind behind an elaborate scheme to steal millions that began soon after Satterfield’s death.
Satterfield was the Murdaughs’ housekeeper and nanny for more than two decades.
The Satterfield family was told that Gloria had tripped on the steps at the Murdaughs’ Moselle property on February 2, 2018. They were told the Murdaughs’ dogs caused her to trip – leading to a fall that resulted in her sustaining a traumatic brain injury.
However, Fleming’s attorney said in the letter that Murdaugh told him “a dog had jumped on Ms. Satterfield causing her to fall off the porch steps at Mr. Murdaugh’s house and hit her head.”
This is slightly different from the version of the story that we’ve heard so far, which is relevant because Satterfield’s death is still a mystery and is now being investigated by SLED due to inconsistencies discovered by the Hampton County coroner last fall.
At Gloria’s funeral, Alex allegedly started railroading her sons and convinced them to hire Fleming to get money for their mother’s death.
However, Pendarvis maintains in the letter that Fleming believed he and Alex were essentially — and astoundingly — co-counsel with each other in pursuit of the same goal of getting big money from the insurance company for the Satterfields.
“Fleming understood the scope of his representation would be a joint representation with Mr. Murdaugh to pursue claims on behalf of Ms. Satterfield or her probate estate against Mr. Murdaugh’s insurance carriers,” the letter said. “While Mr. Murdaugh was technically a party against whom Ms. Satterfield or her Estate had claims, everyone knew and understood the real parties in interest were the insurance carriers.”
Why would an attorney working for the plaintiffs believe he was co-counsel with the defendant? Why would any attorney agree to that arrangement when an attorney’s sole duty is to their clients?
In the letter, Fleming claims he told Tony Satterfield about his friendship with Murdaugh. However, Tony said this didn’t happen — and there is no written consent document outlining any potential conflict of interest in the Satterfield file.
In November 2018, Fleming said that Murdaugh raised concerns with him about Tony Satterfield managing the money from the settlement.
“Mr. Murdaugh mentioned an account with ‘Forge’ had been set up and someone with banking experience would be better suited to handle the transaction concerning the implied structured settlement terms,” Pendarvis wrote in the letter.
According to Fleming’s account, former Palmetto State Bank President Russell Laffitte told Fleming that he didn’t want to serve as the Satterfield’s personal representative — a role he appears to have taken in several other cases involving Murdaugh — but the bank’s Vice President Chad Westendorf said he’d do the job.
“The proposal sounded reasonable given Mr. Satterfield was in his early twenties and seemed to Mr. Fleming to be unsophisticated on financial matters,” the letter said.
This is interesting considering that Westendorf’s entire defense rests on his own incompetence — so much so that he claimed under oath to not understand what the word “fiduciary” meant.
Fleming maintains that he did the Satterfields a good deed by reducing his attorney fee that Judge Carmen Mullen approved “from $1,435,000 down to $676,255.59 (including costs) to be a $758,744.50 gift to benefit the Satterfield Estate.”
But there is a huge problem with this statement — the Satterfields never received a dime of the $4.3 million settlement.
Another issue, Fleming doesn’t appear to have informed the Satterfields of this fake fee reduction, a fact that Waters noted in the bond hearing, saying that it is highly unusual for any attorney to do something like this without making sure he’s getting credited for such an act of kindness.
“Mr. Fleming’s generosity should be recognized and rewarded, not criticized and condemned,” Pendarvis wrote.
How will Cory explain this gifted money if his clients never received any of it?
In another odd defense, Fleming claims he was having “disagreements” with his law partners at Moss, Kuhn & Fleming and that is why he misappropriated more than $26,000 from the law firm’s trust that he claimed was supposed to go to an expert witness for the Satterfield case. According to the indictments, Fleming spent this money on video game entertainment and used it to pay for his large credit card debt.
This might be considered stealing form his law partners — why would he admit to doing that while trying to get his law license back?
According to Westendorf’s recent deposition, Fleming was the one who asked Mullen to sign off on the settlement while taking Alex’s name – who is the defendant – off the case to keep the Murdaugh name out of the press because of the 2019 boat crash that killed Mallory Beach.
A case from which Mullen had just recused herself because of her connection to the Murdaughs.
Fleming didn’t really provide a defense for this in the document. He claimed that he believed Murdaugh’s attorney (for the defense) was supposed to file the order, and he remembered “discussions about the publicity surrounding Paul Murdaugh’s indictment.”
In the 50-page manifesto, Pendarvis fails to offer a justification as to why Fleming (the plaintiff) would write three checks and deliver them to Murdaugh (the defendant) totaling in the millions of dollars, while the Satterfields received zero dollars. Yet, he maintains that Fleming is a victim of Alex Murdaugh.
“Words will not do justice to the strength of Mr. Fleming’s conviction that he did not conspire with Mr. Murdaugh or Mr. Westendorf or anyone else to deprive Mr. Satterfield or Mr. Harriott of their lawful settlement funds as statutory and intestate heirs of their mother, Ms. Satterfield,” Pendarvis said in the letter.
Connor Cook Case
In September, Connor Cook — a survivor of the 2019 boat crash that killed Mallory Beach — filed a lawsuit claiming that Alex Murdaugh conspired with others including Fleming to frame him as the driver.
Connor Cook’s lawsuit alleges that Alex Murdaugh “encouraged and instructed” him to retain Fleming as his defense lawyer without disclosing their relationship. Fleming represented Cook briefly after the crash.
Immediately after the crash, Connor Cook and Paul Murdaugh were the two main suspects after a chaotic and muddled initial investigation.
Connor Cook was asked to take a field sobriety test at the hospital that night, while Paul Murdaugh — who was ultimately charged as the driver — was not.
In Fleming’s report to the Georgia Bar, he claims that Connor Cook’s father was already aware of Fleming’s close ties with the Murdaugh family because he remembered meeting him at one of Randolph Murdaugh’s barbecues earlier.
Fleming claims there was “no significant risk Mr. Fleming’s representation of Mr. Cook would be materially limited by the personal interest of Mr. Fleming based on his professional relationship” with the Murdaugh family.
During his brief representation of Cook, Fleming met with Connor Cook and took notes of his statement (read below).
In the document, Fleming claims that he was getting ready to sever his legal representation of Mr. Cook around the same time “public reports about the criminal investigation were focusing on Paul Murdaugh, Mr. Murdaugh, and the Murdaugh greater family.”
“Mr. Fleming advised his paralegal to prepare a letter to Mr. Cook advising he needed another lawyer to take over the representation,” the document said. “Around the same time, Mr. Fleming remembers receiving a call from Marty Cook expressing similar concerns based on Mr. Fleming’s relationship with the Murdaugh family.”
‘I think about you all the time’
In an attempt to prove that Fleming was a victim of Alex Murdaugh, Pendarvis including a screenshot from a text message and a letter between Alex and Cory.
“It was Mr. Murdaugh’s disciplinary misconduct, tortious acts, and criminal conduct alone in intercepting and converting the settlement proceeds that defeated the objectives of the representation,” Pendarvis wrote.
Pendarvis showed a text message from Alex Murdaugh to Cory Fleming sent on Sept. 28, 2021, while Alex was supposed to be in rehab for his alleged opioid addiction.
At this point, Fleming’s name was plastered all over the media for his role in the Satterfield scheme and he was days away from losing his law license and job.
In a letter, Murdaugh wrote Fleming from jail on Nov. 22, Alex apologized to Cory “for all of the damage he caused Cory and his family.
“You are the last person I would want to hurt and I know I did,” he said. “I’m still not sure how I let all of this happen.”
See below to read the letter.
Alex Murdaugh said he “just wanted to say hello” to his pal Cory.
“I hope I get to see you or talk to you soon,” Murdaugh wrote.
At the end of the letter, he said he missed Maggie and Paul but has never been more proud of Buster. Later, Alex requests a favor of Cory to check on Buster if he has the time and desire to do so.
Alex Murdaugh is still behind bars at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, where Fleming was released yesterday.
Note: This is a news analysis by Mandy Matney, who has been covering this case since 2019.
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].
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