A defendant with alleged ties to a prominent Lowcountry South Carolina gang – and ties to criminal investigations involving convicted killer Alex Murdaugh – is expected to take a plea deal rather than go to trial on August 28, 2023 as scheduled.
Assuming the plea agreement goes through, it could have seismic repercussions on the broader ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga – potentially helping answer lingering questions over where (and how) Murdaugh blew the millions of dollars he stole from former clients, law partners, family members and friends.
In a status hearing earlier this week for confessed Murdaugh co-conspirator Cory Fleming, lead state prosecutor Creighton Waters indicated a plea agreement was in the works for 40-year-old Jerry Rivers.
“We have an agreement in principle,” Waters told S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman, who is presiding over all of the Murdaugh criminal cases.
Rivers, of Walterboro, S.C., was indicted on a single count of obstruction of justice when he allegedly swiped a cell phone belonging to Spencer Roberts from a gambling den where members of law enforcement were executing a search warrant in August 2022. The obstruction charge against Rivers is the only one originating from that search.
Spencer Roberts was subsequently indicted – but not for anything related to the raid. Instead, he was indicted on charges stemming from fraudulent loans and unemployment benefits he received from federal and state Covid-19 assistance programs.
Roberts, 35, of Walterboro, is scheduled to stand trial in Colleton County beginning on December 18, 2023. How is he tied into this drama? At an August 12, 2022 court hearing, Waters told judge Newman that Roberts was in receipt of checks “allegedly originated from Alex Murdaugh.”
As for Rivers, in November 2022 a state grand jury returned a thirteen-count indictment (.pdf) against him for similar fraudulent activity related to the application for and receipt of funds from federal and state programs intended to help businesses and individuals survive the Covid-19 crisis.
About a week before Murdaugh’s murder trial, on January 17, 2023, Rivers was arrested and has been incarcerated at the Alvin S. Glenn detention center ever since. Listed on prison records as standing 6-foot-1 and weighing in at 400 pounds, Rivers strikes an imposing figure … but how does he factor into the Murdaugh saga?
As this news outlet previously reported, Rivers has emerged as a mysterious figure in this still-unfolding story. Several months ago, the website Gangster Report published an article claiming he was “connected to the Walterboro Cowboys drug crew” – specifically referencing his relation to Khiry “K-Blacka” Broughton, whom the article described as the “Cowboys’ boss.”
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The article went on to claim that Rivers – whom prosecutors claim received nearly $90,000 in checks originating from Murdaugh during the first five months of 2021 – was charged with “overseeing security at Murdaugh’s gambling den” on the Moselle property. That report has been downplayed by our law enforcement sources, but Rivers was clearly connected to such activity vis-à-vis his alleged role with the Cowboys.
According to a Colleton County incident report (.pdf), Rivers was arrested and charged with five counts of “unlawful games and betting” following a series of raids in and around Walterboro on August 10, 2022 led by agents of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
Those charges are not posted to the public index, however, and state prosecutors have yet to unseal any grand jury indictments related to them.
According to Gangster Report, the device sought by authorities on August 10, 2022 contained “communications with Murdaugh and Murdaugh associates.” Several of those communications were related to gambling activity, we are told.
Items seized during the August 10, 2022 raids included “evidence of illegal gambling,” but additional information about this “seized contraband” was not available from local authorities.
As this news outlet reported back in March, a statewide grand jury is continuing to investigate what remains of Murdaugh’s erstwhile empire – which obviously includes multiple investigatory threads just waiting to be pulled. Among those threads are the drug charges against Murdaugh and his co-conspirators – and allegations of institutional corruption in the Lowcountry.
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Allegations tied to potentially larger drug smuggling operations also loom in proximity to the now-fallen “House of Murdaugh,” a legal dynasty which ran the S.C. fourteenth judicial circuit like a fiefdom for more than a century prior to its spectacular unraveling over the last four years.
“The Lowcountry as we know it was built on the drug trade,” one veteran Beaufort County law enforcement officer told our news outlet recently. “They built Hilton Head Island with cocaine money. You think the Murdaughs weren’t part of that?”
While prosecutors have an agreement “in principle” with Rivers, it isn’t a done deal.
During Tuesday’s court hearing, Waters cautioned “nothing is final until everybody stands at the altar.”
Questioned by our founding editor Will Folks as to the particulars of the proposed plea deal – including envisioned cooperation agreements with other ongoing Murdaugh-related investigations – Waters declined to elaborate on his comments to the judge. However, he did say there would be additional “meat on the bone” disclosed at future hearings.
Reached for comment on Wednesday, attorney general spokesman Robert Kittle had little to say about the status of Rivers’ case.
“The only thing we can confirm is that Jerry Rivers is scheduled to go to trial on August 28th,” Kittle said.
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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