Three motions filed on Friday afternoon in U.S. district court in Charleston, South Carolina could change the nature and scope of a case involving the theft of millions of dollars by convicted killer Alex Murdaugh. The motions were submitted in connection with a case filed last spring by insurance provider Nautilus related to fraudulent payouts made to the estate of Gloria Satterfield – the Murdaughs’ longtime domestic worker.
To recap: Satterfield passed away at Trident Medical Center in North Charleston, South Carolina on February 26, 2018 – more than three weeks after allegedly tripping and falling off the front porch of the Murdaugh family’s former hunting property, known locally as Moselle.
Murdaugh used her death to rob a pair of insurance companies of several million dollars, according to state and federal prosecutors – and according to his own belated admissions.
The late Paul Murdaugh and his mother, the late Maggie Murdaugh, were both present at Moselle when Satterfield was allegedly tripped by the family’s dogs, causing her to fall backward onto the brick stairs in front of the main house shortly after 9:15 a.m. EST on the morning of Friday, February 2, 2018.
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A little more than three years later, both Paul and Maggie were savagely murdered at the dog kennels on the Moselle property. Alex Murdaugh has since been convicted of their murders and sentenced to life in prison. Additionally, he is facing more than 100 other criminal charges at the state level – including a dozen financial charges tied to the Satterfield insurance scam. Murdaugh is also facing nearly two dozen federal charges, several of which involve the Satterfield fleecing.
Murdaugh’s alleged co-conspirator, Beaufort attorney Cory Fleming, is also facing state and federal charges in connection with the case.
What happened to Satterfield? Murdaugh told insurance investigators the family dogs caused her fall – but with no other statements to support this claim, many doubted the account. What happened next is not in dispute, though. Murdaugh defrauded two insurance companies of $4.3 million in claims related to Satterfield’s death.
Specifically, the money paid out by Nautilus and intended for the estate was re-routed by Murdaugh – who deposited it into a fake business account and converted it for his own personal use, according to state and federal prosecutors.
At the time of Gloria Satterfield’s fall, Alex Murdaugh had insurance policies with Lloyd’s of London – which held his “underlying insurance” policy for $505,000 – and Nautilus, which held his “extra” or “umbrella” policy for $5 million. In order for the umbrella policy to take effect, every penny of the underlying policy had to be paid, or a promise of payment had to be made.
RELATED | SATTERFIELD ATTORNEYS FIRE BACK
In other words, it was critical for Murdaugh to successfully prove he was at fault in Satterfield’s death. According to a report filed in relation to this complaint from attorney Scott Wallinger – who was hired by Lloyds of London to represent Murdaugh – Satterfield sustained a right-sided head laceration, a right-sided subdural hematoma, a traumatic brain injury, multiple left-side posterior rib fractures, a partially collapsed lung and a pulmonary contusion.
The report further detailed Murdaugh’s account of what happened that day, stating after his arrival on the scene he was the only person who heard Gloria say she had been tripped by the dogs. Murdaugh also made it a point to say Gloria was not at Moselle working that day – but instead had stopped by the property that morning to pick up a check.
Both the cause of Satterfield’s fall, and her purpose for being at Moselle, were critical to his story. Had she fallen accidentally or as a result of an illness, there would have been no payout on the claim because Murdaugh wouldn’t have been negligent. And if Satterfield had come to Moselle to perform duties related to her job, her fall would have resulted in a worker’s compensation claim.
In May of this year, Murdaugh finally came clean – admitting he lied about the dogs tripping Satterfield and about her reason for being on the property.
“No dogs were involved in the fall of Gloria Satterfield on February 2, 2018,” his attorneys admitted in a filing tied to the Nautilus case. “(Murdaugh) invented Ms. Satterfield’s purported statement that dogs caused her fall to force his insurers to make a settlement payment, and he stated that she was not on the property to perform work.”
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The three filings submitted on Friday were made by attorneys for Murdaugh, Nautilus and Chad Westendorf – an executive at the embattled Palmetto State Bank (PSB) who was personal representative for the Satterfield estate. Collectively, these three cases have the ability to alter or even end the federal case – depending on how they are received or rejected by the court.
In the first of the three motions (.pdf), Murdaugh’s attorneys – Phillip Barber and Jim Griffin – insisted the Satterfields be enjoined to the lawsuit filed by the Nautilus Insurance Company. The insurance company is trying to recover nearly $4 million paid out to the estate of Gloria Satterfield following her death.
Previous filings in this case have accused the Satterfields’ attorneys of misconduct. They have also pointed to allegations dating back to October of 2021 indicating these lawyers were worried the family might have to “(cough back up) the money to the insurance companies – which they would have to do if the claim was fabricated from the start.”
None of the money paid out by Nautilus ever made its way to the Satterfields. In the aftermath of Murdaugh’s fraud and thievery being exposed, however, their attorneys have received compensation totaling at least $7.5 million.
Therein lies the rub – and what Harpootlian and Griffin seem to hope will provide the ultimate escape route for Murdaugh. By attaching the Satterfield heirs to the lawsuit, the attorneys hope to make them liable for any funds repaid to Nautilus over what they now say is a fraudulent insurance claim.
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Make no mistake: It was Alex Murdaugh who approached Gloria Satterfield’s sons with a plan to collect money from his insurance company following her death. It was Alex Murdaugh who arranged for the lawsuit to be brought against him and his insurance company – and going so far as to connect the Satterfields with an attorney to see it through. When the insurance company accepted the Satterfields’ claim and paid out a settlement via their Murdaugh-connected attorney, it was Murdaugh who re-routed the funds to his own personal account. And, considering his current lack of solvency, it was Murdaugh who spent the money intended for the Satterfields.
Yet in a cruel twist of fate, it is looking increasingly as though it may fall to the Satterfields to compensate the insurance company for the loss sustained by the corporation – even though the Satterfields did not collect a dime of their money.
No doubt the latest round of legal maneuvering is intended to put U.S. district court judge Richard Gergel in the uncomfortable position of either adding the Satterfields to the suit – and thereby potentially making them liable – or dismissing the case altogether.
“Although the Satterfield parties might claim to be agnostic as to the propriety of the claim payment, they can hardly take the position that Nautilus made a payment intended for their benefit only because it was fraudulently induced to do so, while simultaneously asserting a legal right to receive that payment,” a footnote to the Murdaugh motion noted.
In other words, the Satterfield attorneys cannot have their cake and eat it, too. If the Satterfield claim was made in good faith – Nautilus paid Murdaugh and it is Murdaugh who would owe the Satterfields. If the claim was fraudulent, however, Murdaugh owes Nautilus the repayment of the funds. The filing further argued he would also be liable to compensate the Satterfields for what he put them through – emotional distress or outrage.
But that is not the equivalent of the millions in settlement funds.
Further, at this point in time, Palmetto State Bank and other parties have settled with the Satterfields over their part in the matter for dollar amounts that exceed the initial settlement by nearly double. Because unjust enrichment is not in keeping with the spirit of the law, it is possible Nautilus could seek restitution from the Satterfields.
“If the court determines Nautilus is entitled to restitution for the money stolen from it, equity requires that the restitution should come from the party that has already received a double recovery for this same theft,” the motion concluded.
THE NAUTILUS MOTION …
The motion (.pdf) submitted by attorneys for Nautilus on Friday asked the court for permission to alter the insurance company’s complaint to conform to mid-discovery facts. Since new information has come to light about the fraud, Nautilus wants the opportunity to address what it now knows about the fleecing via an amended complaint with new causes of action.
Specifically, the amended complaint seeks damages from all defendants – and at present that does not include the Satterfield heirs.
THE WESTENDORF MOTION …
While there is a saying “ignorance is no defense,” this turn of phrase is not a familiar one for Chad Westendorf or his counsel. According to the third filing (.pdf) submitted on Friday, Westendorf wants to be released from the Nautlilus claim based on his contention that he had no knowledge of – or participation with – Nautilus either in mediation or at any other time while acting as the personal representative for the Satterfield heirs. Therefore, Westendorf claims he did not “knowingly” participate in the fraud.
He did not sign the settlement paperwork, receive a Nautilus check or have any involvement in the disbursement of the funds. Simply put, Westendorf claims he did not know enough to be involved in a conspiracy and so the suit should be dismissed as it relates to him.
A motions hearing in this case has been scheduled for 10:00 a.m. EDT on August 15, 2023 in the U.S. district court in Charleston in front of judge Gergel. Since a number of motions are already active in the case, it is unknown which if any of these items may be addressed at that time.
Count on this news outlet to keep our audience apprised of the latest developments in this case and all the other Murdaugh-related matters moving through civil and criminal courts at both the state and federal level.
UPDATE | This article was edited to clarify the motions from Murdaugh and Nautilus.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher, and author whose investigative work can be found in media outlets, publications, and documentaries all over the world – most recently in the Parisian newspaper Le Monde and a German documentary for ProSieben. Lyons also appears in Citizen Sleuth – a 2023 documentary exploring the genre of true crime.
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