Murdaughs

Murdaugh Legal Drama: An Update On The Federal Battle Over Alex Murdaugh’s Money

Parties make their intentions clear …

In a court case that continues to conjure up the spirit of Charles Dickens’ characters like Oliver and Ebenezer Scrooge, recent filings in a ‘Murdaugh Murders’ federal civil suit are clarifying the motivations of some of the parties involved. In recent weeks, there have been rumblings of potential liability for the heirs of Gloria Satterfield in a federal lawsuit brought by insurance provider Nautilus against Alex Murdaugh and his co-conspirators – a suit that seeks repayment of the multi-million dollar settlement stolen by Murdaugh. However, the latest filings make it clear Nautilus is not looking to the Satterfield heirs to recoup any of that money.  

As previously reported, this lawsuit revolves around events which transpired following the death of Satterfield – who passed away at Trident Medical Center in North Charleston, S.C. on February 26, 2018. Satterfield died more than three weeks after allegedly tripping and falling off the front steps of the main house on the Murdaugh family’s former hunting property, known locally as Moselle. 

Initial reports indicated the Murdaugh family dogs caused her to lose her balance and fall backward.

Of all the alleged crimes against Murdaugh, the theft of funds intended for Satterfield’s heirs is among the most egregious and well-documented. Murdaugh approached the Satterfields at Gloria’s funeral with the idea they should sue him so as to recover funds from his insurance company. The heirs – Tony Satterfield and Brian Harriott needed the money – not to support a lavish lifestyle, but for the most basic necessities (including staving off eviction).

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Instead of receiving the $4.3 million the two insurance companies paid out in claims for the heirs, though, Murdaugh stole the funds and the heirs found themselves without a place to live. 

Nautilus provided the lion’s share of the money – $3.8 million – while Lloyd’s of London paid out $505,000. When Nautilus insurance became aware of Murdaugh’s shenanigans, a suit was filed in federal court. Since that time, co-conspirators Cory Fleming, the Moss & Kuhn law firm, Palmetto State Bank (PSB) and bank executive Chad Westendorf have been added to the suit.

Murdaugh confessed to the theft of funds from the Satterfields in May 2021 – but recently tried to walk his confession back. Also, there has been a lot of talk about whether it was really the dogs which tripped Gloria – as Murdaugh alleged in his early statements to the insurance company about the incident. These statements have since been revoked by the convicted murderer and perpetual fraudster.

Given the lawsuit’s current direction (as documented in a mountain of paperwork), the argument over the dogs seems to have lost its relevancy.

As the federal lawsuit plods toward a 2024 trial date, the latest volley of filings reads like this: Nautilus wants to update the complaint and expand the potential outcomes given what is now known about the fraud. Palmetto State Bank and Chad Westendorf both want the civil action to go away – quickly and quietly. Murdaugh wants the Satterfield heirs to be added as a party to the suit – and to become responsible for reimbursing all or part of the funds Murdaugh stole. Meanwhile, attorneys for the Satterfield heirs say their clients have no dog in this fight.

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ANOTHER POSSIBLE RICO CONSPIRACY?

Much more is known about the Satterfield claim than back in April 2022 when Nautilus first filed the federal suit. The trials of Alex Murdaugh and PSB president Russell Laffitte – and the plea deal of Cory Fleming – revealed information the company could use to expand its causes for action. The insurance company would like to include this new information in their complaint – which could present problems for Palmetto State Bank regarding its alleged failure to perform its fiduciary duties.

Beyond that, a claim that the co-conspirators engaged in activity that falls under the definition of a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) violation could open the door for federal charges and result in three times the damages being awarded to the plaintiffs.

In opposition to the amending of the complaint, bank attorneys insisted their motion for a summary judgment of the case – based on their argument that the allegations against the institution are null and void – should be considered first. Should that effort fail, the bank has a back-up plan – notably its insistence that all of the bad acts alleged by the lawsuit were the responsibility of Alex Murdaugh, Cory Fleming and Russell Laffitte (and not the financial institution that enabled them).

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THE PENNILESS PRISONER V. THE ORPHANS …

On August 10, 2023 a filing by Murdaugh’s attorneys – Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin – advanced the narrative that Nautilus should never have paid out on the fraudulent or fictitious claim. Further, the Murdaugh defense team argued the Satterfields are trying to recover the same money as Nautilus by virtue of Murdaugh’s confession of judgment.

They threw a few well-chosen barbs in that filing, too.

“Instead of engaging this issue substantively, the Satterfield parties’ attorneys have consistently engaged in unlawyerly ad hominem attacks on Mr. Murdaugh’s counsel and inflammatory extrajudicial statements, openly flouting the rules of professional conduct, as bluster to intimidate and as a smokescreen to obscure the fundamental lack of justice in their clients’ cause.”

“Yes, the Satterfield parties are victims who were cruelly abused by a man they trusted, but no, the fact that he used them as unknowing pawns in his insurance fraud scheme does not give them a legal entitlement to any proceeds of the fraud,” the reply from Murdaugh’s defense team noted.

In their representation of the Satterfield family, attorneys Eric BlandRonnie Richter and Scott Mongillo have reached settlement agreements with several co-conspirators totaling a reported $7.5 million. However, Murdaugh’s attorneys assert that the amount may actually be as high as $10 million.

(Click to view)

Alex Murdaugh speaks to his attorney Jim Griffin during his trial for murder at the Colleton County Courthouse on Friday, February 10, 2023. Joshua Boucher/The State/Pool

“It is outrageous that they should expect Mr. Murdaugh’s other victims — who, unlike the Satterfield parties, had payments for legitimate claims stolen or who had to reimburse stolen legitimate claims — to reimburse the insurance company,” Murdaugh’s attorneys noted.

This appears to be an attempt to paint the Satterfield heirs – the young men Murdaugh robbed even as they were becoming homeless – as greedy or over-reaching since other victims of Murdaugh’s financial crimes will soon be competing for a significantly smaller portion of recovery.

A footnote to this filing signed by attorneys Griffin and Phillip Barber calls Murdaugh a “penniless prisoner serving multiple life sentences.”

“The court-appointed receivers have recently reported that the receivership estate contains approximately $1.75 million, and they have requested disbursement of an additional $250,000 for their fees and costs (in addition to the approximately $408,000 they have already disbursed to themselves), leaving about $1.5 million for Mr. Murdaugh’s victims and creditors, and well as for fees for the mediator and the special referee the receivers have asked the receivership court to appoint.”

Absent from this statement is the fact Murdaugh’s defense team collected $600,000 from the fund as part of the liquidation of Murdaugh’s 401K. And that they requested $160,000 more from the victims’ fund but were repeatedly denied – a matter they are taking before the South Carolina Court of Appeals despite their agreement in the terms of the 401K liquidation not to appeal or object.

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NAUTILUS FOCUSES ON THE CO-CONSPIRATORS …

Nautilus has made it clear it is seeking a full recovery of its losses despite Murdaugh’s inability to pay – just not from the Satterfields. Turning the tables on the disbarred attorney and his legal team, the Nautilus filing says if Murdaugh is at risk of facing a double obligation over the scheme, he has no one but himself to blame because he confessed judgment to the Satterfields and admitted his fraudulent deeds to Nautilus.

“Even if one were to take his argument seriously, the circumstances suggest flawed gamesmanship rather than earnestness,” the company’s latest filing noted. “Rather than raise his (albeit, unmeritorious) joinder argument prior to entering his confession, he waited until eighteen months after his confession was entered to file a motion in this Court that relies on his confession as purported evidence of a conflict of interest and risk of double recovery.”

The Nautilus filing makes it clear the company has no beef with the Satterfields and is not looking to them to come up with any of the money Murdaugh stole.

“Any recovery Nautilus obtains would not be from the Satterfields, because the funds belonging to Nautilus never reached the Satterfields,” its attorneys stated.

Further, Nautilus defined the funds recovered by the family as “in settlement of the Satterfields’ tort claims against those defendants,” adding that Murdaugh cannot make the Satterfields liable for the reimbursement of the funds he fraudulently obtained and subsequently stole. It also stated that the company is looking to the existing parties to the suit for to foot the bill for their losses – solidly putting the liability for $3.8 million plus damages on the shoulders of Cory Fleming, Moss & Kuhn, Chad Westendorf and Palmetto State Bank.

“After all that has transpired because of his actions, the fact that Mr. Murdaugh now claims that the Satterfields are a necessary party to Nautilus’ action on the basis of his own informed and voluntary confession of judgment is seemingly manipulative, brazen, tone-deaf, or perhaps some combination thereof,” Nautilus stated.

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SPEAKING OF THE WAR BETWEEN PODCASTS …

The sniping between Murdaugh’s attorneys and attorneys for the Satterfield’s continues in two subsequent filings that do not amount to much. Satterfield’s attorneys, as non-parties, re-stated their position that their clients have no dog in this fight and should not be attached as parties to the suit. In response, Murdaugh’s legal team asked the court to strike the Bland Richter filing, saying it serves no purpose “other than wanting to have the last word”.

Pot, meet kettle.

Presumably, the attorneys will take this spat to the airwaves via their competing podcasts.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Callie Lyons (Provided)

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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