Another week, another major escalation in the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga – the Southern gothic drama based in Hampton County, South Carolina that continues to drive national and international attention on the Palmetto State’s crumbling good ol’ boy network.
Last week, our extensive, exclusive reporting on the latest developments in the federal criminal investigation tied to this case blew this story wide open (again) … expanding the potential outlines of the criminal network revolving around disgraced/ disbarred attorney and accused killer Alex Murdaugh.
This week? The outlines of the corruption are once again expanding … this time in connection with a new civil lawsuit filed in the S.C. fourteenth judicial circuit.
According to an exclusive report filed by Michael DeWitt of The Hampton County Guardian, the newest civil lawsuit was filed last Friday on behalf of Manuel Santiz-Cristiani – a resident of Chiapas, Mexico and a former client of Murdaugh and the Hampton, S.C.-based law firm formerly known as Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick, P.A. (PMPED).
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Santiz-Cristiani’s lawsuit named Murdaugh as a defendant – but it also named his former firm and two of his former law partners, Ronnie Crosby and William F. Barnes III. Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes co-conspirator – disgraced banker Russell Laffitte – is also named as a defendant, as is the financial institution he used to work for, Palmetto State Bank (PSB).
In other words, it is tracking along the very same lines as the “broader conspiracy” this news outlet first reported on in detail back on September 28, 2022 in connection with the federal criminal probe.
According to a copy of the suit (.pdf) obtained by this news outlet, Murdaugh and his former law partners “aided and abetted Laffitte and (PSB) in the breach of their fiduciary duties.” Specifically, it alleged that Crosby, Barnes and PMPED “aided and abetted Laffitte and (PSB) in the breach of fiduciary duties by participating in a scheme through which (Santiz-Cristiani) would not receive any proceeds of any settlement(s)” in the aftermath of a 2008 vehicular accident.
Santiz-Cristiani was “a passenger in a vehicle traveling along Interstate 95 in Colleton County, South Carolina” on November 4, 2008 when the “tread separated from the right rear tire of the vehicle causing it to overturn.”
According to the suit, Santiz-Cristiani retained PMPED to represent him in legal action against the driver of the vehicle, the manufacturer of the tire (Michelin North America, Inc.) and the manufacturer of the vehicle (Ford Motor Company).
That lawsuit was filed on August 30, 2011 and settled on September 24, 2013 for “a sum amount unknown to the plaintiff,” according to Santiz-Cristiani’s suit. Upon the settlement of the suit, PMPED “deposited (Santiz-Cristiani)’s settlement funds” with PSB, according to the suit, with Laffitte acting as the conservator for the funds.
What happened next? Nothing … at least not as far as the “victorious” plaintiff was concerned.
“Defendants failed to inform (Santiz-Cristiani) of the amount of funds recovered on his behalf and to this date, (he) has never received the funds from the (lawsuit),” the lawsuit alleged.
So … how much money did Santiz-Cristiani win in his settlement? And what happened to it?
These are two key questions the lawsuit is seeking to answer … but those who have followed this saga from the beginning probably have a good idea of what sort of alleged conspiracy may have deprived this defendant of his rightful reward.
According to the filing – which was submitted by attorney Glenn Walters Sr. of Orangeburg, S.C. – Santiz-Cristiani is “entitled to an accounting of all funds recovered” on his behalf from the 2011 product liability lawsuit as well as “any other claim, action, or settlement involving the automobile accident on November 4, 2008.”
Specifically, the suit demands “an immediate, full, complete and accurate accounting of any and all funds, costs and expenses” from the legal action filed on Santiz-Cristiani’s behalf.
The plaintiff’s theory on the missing money?
“The defendants have unlawfully converted the plaintiff’s settlement funds … and their actions have combined to permanently deprive the plaintiff of the settlement funds,” the lawsuit alleged.
As a result of this alleged conspiracy, the lawsuit seeks actual damages, special damages and punitive damages – with the envisioned awarding of the latter intended to “impress upon these defendants the seriousness of their conduct and to deter such similar conduct in the future.”
PMPED changed its name back in December 2021 to Parker Law Group.
According to a statement from the new firm, Santiz-Christiani’s lawsuit is “without merit.”
“The Parker Law Group and its members believe the lawsuit is without merit, and we expect it to be dismissed,” a statement from the firm noted.
As I noted last week, Murdaugh and Laffitte were childhood friends – sons of privilege from the Palmetto Lowcountry who leveraged their upbringing in prominent, powerful families into influential positions within their community.
According to state and federal prosecutors, they turned around and abused this privilege and power by taking advantage of the “least of these” among them.
Laffitte was fired from his position as PSB chief executive officer back in January. Three months later, he was indicted by state prosecutors on multiple criminal conspiracy charges tied to his alleged role in the various Murdaugh-related fleecings. In late July, Laffitte was hit with a five-count federal indictment alleging bank fraud, wire fraud, misapplication of bank funds and conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud.
Murdaugh has not been charged at the federal level, but at the state level he is currently facing 90 individual counts of alleged criminal activity involving “schemes to defraud victims” of $8.79 million.
If the allegations contained in this lawsuit are accurate, expect additional indictments against both Murdaugh and Laffitte at some point in the future.
But … who else?
As I reported last week, developments in the federal criminal case have pointed to a broader conspiracy in the financial crimes component of the Murdaugh saga – one which federal prosecutors do not appear especially eager to unearth.
Sources close to the case insist the real masterminds of these fleecings have yet to be identified – let alone criminally charged or held accountable for their actions.
Are state investigators and prosecutors going to pick up the slack for their federal counterparts?
We shall see … but someone needs to follow the money (and the culpability) to its terminus.
THE LAWSUIT …
(Via: S.C. Fourteenth Circuit)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has many hats – including that Minnesota Twins’ lid pictured above.
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