In a confession of judgment filed Thursday at Hampton County Courthouse, disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh formally admitted to owing $4.3 million to the family of the woman who helped raise his children.
Murdaugh, who stands accused of stealing nearly $9 million from clients’ settlement funds, also confessed to “engaging in defalcation while acting in a fiduciary capacity.”
“Defalcation” refers to the misuse, mishandling or embezzlement of money, specifically by someone in a fiduciary role.
Murdaugh was sued in 2018 for the wrongful death of Gloria Satterfield, the longtime housekeeper of the Murdaugh family, who died as the result of a trip and fall at the Murdaugh’s Moselle property in Islandton, South Carolina.
Though Murdaugh was the defendant in the case — and ordinarily would have no fiduciary duty to the plaintiffs as such — he confused matters by engaging his paralegals and sending out correspondence on his law firm’s letter head on behalf of the Satterfield family
Murdaugh allegedly spearheaded the scheme to steal the entirety of the family’s $4.3 million settlement.
He is accused of:
- Suggesting the family sue him.
- Arranging legal representation for the family — in the form of his best friend, Beaufort attorney Cory Fleming.
- Helping to secure an unusually large settlement by allegedly threatening his insurance company that, should the case go to trial, he would confess to being at fault for Gloria Satterfield’s death and then sue his insurance company for bad faith. Hampton County juries are known for awarding large settlements to plaintiffs. Therefore, the insurance company was particularly motivated to settle high and settle fast.
- Facilitating the removal of Tony Satterfield as personal representative for his mother’s estate — he was purportedly asking “too many questions” — and replacing Tony with Chad Westendorf, the vice president of Palmetto State Bank. Westendorf, who later admitted to never meeting or even talking to the Satterfield boys, was paid $30,000 for a few signatures and a stunning lack of intellectual curiosity. Westendorf, a longtime banker, testified last month that he did not know the meaning of the word “fiduciary.”
- Taking $3.8 million of the money and funneling it through a bank account meant to mimic that of a legitimate agency that manages large settlements for plaintiffs.
The Satterfield family never knew they had received a dime.
Murdaugh faces 13 charges in the Satterfield, including a conspiracy charge. Fleming, his alleged co-conspirator, faces 18 charges in the case.
Since Oct. 14, 2021, Murdaugh has been incarcerated and is facing a total of 78 charges for alleged financial crimes and a bizarre “suicide for hire” shooting that he claims was insurance fraud. He is being held at the Richland County Detention Center on a $7 million bond.
Fleming turned himself in March 17 and was released shortly after on a $100,000 bond.
History of Murdaugh’s confession …
Murdaugh first expressed his intent to confess judgment in the Satterfield family during a December bond hearing.
They pulled out all the stops.
They filed an ethics complaint against the Satterfield family’s attorney Eric Bland.
They asked the court for a gag order against Bland.
They filed a writ of habeas corpus with the state Supreme Court.
They also tried to get their client removed from the Satterfield case altogether, saying the family had already been “made whole” by other defendants in the case. Therefore, they argued, their client didn’t need to contribute.
However, by the December hearing — when they needed to show the court that their client was not a flight risk nor a danger to the public or himself — that position had changed drastically.
In his appeal on Murdaugh’s behalf, Harpootlian told the court that his client had agreed to repay the Satterfields for the full amount they had received.
“I want to indicate that Mr. Murdaugh has agreed to confessing a judgment of $4.3 million to the Satterfield. It has to be approved by the receiver, but we’ve offered to do that. And also that he apologizes and — I’m reading from a statement from him to the entire Satterfield and Harriott families — for his financial transgressions committed in connection with a wrongful death settlement funds recovered in connection with the death of Gloria Satterfield and the pain that is caused to everyone.”
Murdaugh later gave an eight-minute statement, in which he offered no additional apologies to the family.
The judge ordered that he be released on a $7 million bond without the option to pay 10 percent.
Will the Satterfield family actually get this money?
In November 2021, the court froze Murdaugh’s assets and placed them under the control of a co-receivership after a request from Mark Tinsley, who represents the family of Mallory Beach in a 2019 wrongful death case resulting from a boat crash.
The boat crash involved Murdaugh’s son Paul, who was murdered alongside his mother in June 2021.
Murdaugh is a defendant in the Beach case, as well as at least eight other causes.
Tinsley filed the motion for a receivership after evidence began to surface that Murdaugh’s assets were being hidden, squandered or both.
In the lead-up to the murders of his wife and son — and since then — Murdaugh and his attorneys have repeatedly maintained that he has no money.
In fact, Thursday’s confession of judgment to (alleged) creditors is not Murdaugh’s first.
At the end of October 2021, Murdaugh’s older brother, Randolph Murdaugh IV, and his former law partner John E. Parker filed separate complaints against Alex, alleging that he owed them $46,500 and $477,000 respectively.
Immediately after the receivership hearing, Alex — from jail — filed confessions of judgment in both complaints.
The move by all three men was suspected by some to be a way to shelter some of Murdaugh’s money.
On Nov. 5, 2021, the co-receivers assigned to comb through his finances and assess his true worth filed an emergency order to halt the his confessions of judgment.
While Murdaugh’s most recent confession of judgment for $4,305,000 secures the Satterfield family’s place as a creditor, the family’s attorney Eric Bland is clear on where the situation stands.
“Do I think we’re going to get the full $4.3 million?,” Bland said Friday. “No.”
Alex Murdaugh owes a lot of money to a lot of people, and there’s no telling how many more clients there are out there with missing funds.
Two things need to happen before victims can know how much of their stolen money will be returned to them.
The first is getting a tallying on how much was taken and from whom. Murdaugh’s full list of alleged victims is still unknown.
The second thing that needs to happen is getting a full report on Murdaugh’s assets from the co-receivership.
Once these factors have been determined, it will be up to a judge to fairly distribute money amongst the victims.
Murdaugh’s case is a complex one that includes multiple investigations on the state and federal level. He is also the only publicly named “person of interest” in the deaths of his wife and son. Sources have told FITSNews that physical evidence directly links him to the scenes of their murders that night.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Liz Farrell is the new executive editor at FITSNews. She was named 2018’s top columnist in the state by South Carolina Press Association and is back after taking a nearly two-year break from corporate journalism to reclaim her soul. Email her at [email protected] or tweet her @ElizFarrell.
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