Murdaughs

Murdaugh Saga: The State Strikes Back

Lead prosecutor gets aggressive at plea hearing for Alex Murdaugh co-conspirator …

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A week after he was sentenced to four years in federal prison for his role in connection with convicted killer Alex Murdaugh’s many financial fleecings, Beaufort, South Carolina attorney Cory Fleming pleaded guilty in state court on Wednesday to more than twenty financial crimes – the sum of which could conceivably land him in jail for the rest of his life.

While still technically in federal custody, he was taken by agents of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and transferred to the Beaufort County, S.C. detention center where he will await a sentencing hearing on September 14, 2023.

Fleming’s sentencing being delayed was probably a good thing for him seeing as lead prosecutor Creighton Waters delivered a stirring evisceration of the disgraced lawyer during Wednesday’s hearing – which has held at the historic Williamsburg County courthouse in Kingstree, S.C.

“Cory told us he had been hoodooed by Alex like everyone else – he had been tricked,” Waters told presiding judge judge Clifton Newman. “We discovered he was a willing co-conspirator for more than a decade.”

From there, Waters proceeded to methodically document how Fleming knew exactly what Murdaugh was up to – masterfully exposing the defendant’s consciousness of guilt at every step of the scams.

The amount of money Fleming helped Murdaugh steal? More than $3.7 million – tens of thousands of which wound up in his own pockets at pivotal moments in his personal financial history. On multiple occasions, Waters documented how Fleming would raid a trust fund which should have gone to the heirs of Gloria Satterfield – Murdaugh’s late family housekeeper – so that he could pay his tax bills, mortgage payments and credit card debt.

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“The motive is clear from his bank account why he’s stealing this money,” Waters told Newman. “He needed that money for personal purposes.”

Waters also documented how Fleming and Murdaugh stole money from a trust fund for Pamela Pinckney – the mother of one of Murdaugh’s clients, a deaf quadriplegic car crash victim named Hakeem Pinckney. Pinckney died under questionable circumstances just four days after a multi-million dollar settlement was reached in his case.

Murdaugh and Fleming used Pamela Pinckney’s funds to fly on a private plane to the 2012 College World Series – where their beloved University of South Carolina baseball team was competing.

“He and Alex were playing with millions of dollars that belong to (their victims),” Waters said, accusing the two friends of participating in “a conspiracy to put money that should be in the plaintiff’s pockets into their own.”

Waters also made it clear that according to the state, Fleming had “not lived up to his cooperation agreement.”

Equating the case to a speeding citation, Waters noted that “the facts as I’ve recited them repeatedly reference (Fleming) doing ninety in a fifty-five mile-per-hour zone, not fifty-eight.”

After Waters had concluded his presentation, Newman asked Fleming whether he disagreed with anything the lead prosecutor had said.

“I agree there are facts that establish my guilt on each of the indictments but I disagree with some of the statements made by Mr. Waters that I would like to address at sentencing,” Fleming told the court.

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Cory Fleming listens to advice from his attorney, Deborah Barbier, during a plea hearing at the Williamsburg County courthouse in Kingstree, S.C. on August 23, 2023 (Dylan Nolan/ FITSNews)

Similarly, Fleming’s attorney – Deborah Barbier of Columbia, S.C. – said she had “some disagreement with certain facts” but indicated she desired to address those issues at Fleming’s sentencing hearing, as well.

“I can get into any specifics the court would like but I think it’s appropriate for sentencing,” Barbier said.

Clearly, Barbier was eager to get out of the courtroom as quickly as possible given the devastating documentation presented by Waters in what amounted to the equivalent of a closing argument at trial.

Right out of the gate, Waters made it clear he was asserting the prosecutorial sovereignty of the state of South Carolina – a clear dig at federal prosecutors following their deal with Murdaugh’s former best friend and the godfather to his surviving son, Buster Murdaugh.

“Today, in a state court, is the first time that we’re going to see accountability for abuse of the state court system,” Waters began. “It’s a very complex way in which it was done, but I have to remind the court that this is a state lawyer who had a state law license who abused that state law license in state court actions before state court judges with state court settlements and things that happened in the state of South Carolina.”

“That’s why it demands a resolution – the state judicial system has to have accountability for someone who has abused that very system,” Waters said.

State and federal attorneys have been battling for months over the financial charges against Murdaugh and his co-conspirators. In fact, prosecutors in the offices of South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson and U.S. attorney Adair Ford Boroughs have been “at war” since mid-spring – with state prosecutors accusing the feds of “copying” their work in this case.

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Attorneys for Murdaugh and Fleming’s victims were thrilled with the aggressive recapitulation provided by Waters – which stood in stark contrast to the comparatively gentle treatment Fleming received in federal court.

Justin Bamberg – who represents Pamela Pinckney – spoke of how important this case would be in establishing a baseline for future cases involving attorney misconduct in the Palmetto State.

“To the legal community, this is so important,” Bamberg told me. “Every now and then, you have a standard-setting moment in history. This is one of those moments. The sentences issued here are going to set the standard for the most egregious lawyer conduct we’ve seen in a century. The punishment’s gotta match the egregiousness of the conduct.”

Eric Bland – a Lexington, S.C. attorney who represents the heirs of Gloria Satterfield – agreed wholeheartedly with Bamberg. He also praised Waters for pulling no punches in laying out the narrative of Fleming’s misconduct.

“If you are going to do it for deterrence, you have to have a record,” Bland told me. “If we are going to have accountability – if we are going to have an educational moment for the rest of the bar – there has to be a record. You can’t have someone come in at the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute and say ‘I’m sorry.’ You cannot let it go on like that, you have to say on the record ‘this is what he did.””

“He’s no victim,” Bland added. “He was an active participant.”

As for last week’s federal plea agreement, Bland told me U.S. district judge Richard Gergel‘s four-year sentence of Fleming should not be the extent of the consequences he faces for his conduct.

“Gergel’s sentence was not enough,” he said. “You have to punish the crime not just the person.”

Bland reiterated that in addition to the criminal conspirators – the judges who signed off on these shady deals should be subjected to further scrutiny. He specifically singled out embattled S.C. circuit court judge Carmen Mullen – who approved many Murdaugh-related settlements (including the Satterfield agreement).

According to Bland, Mullen never questioned dubious assertions made by Fleming and Murdaugh in settlement filings – even though the claims clearly “made no sense.”

“Mullen never asked!” Bland said, referring to a host of six-figure expenses linked to a case which was not in litigation and in which no depositions were being taken.

As for the back and forth between the state and the feds, Bland made it clear “the attorney general’s office built this case.”

“The is case was built by Creighton Waters and me in 2021,” he said.

Waters acknowledged as much during his remarks before the court, saying were it not for “the work of the statewide grand jury and SLED, Fleming might be on his boat wearing capri pants.”

Federal prosecutors have pushed back against the state’s contention, arguing an agreement was in place for them to handle the financial crimes component of the Murdaugh saga while Waters’ team handled the high-profile double homicide case earlier this year.

And handle that case they did. On March 2, 2023, a Colleton jury found Murdaugh guilty of brutally murdering his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and his younger son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh  at Moselle – the family’s 1,700-acre hunting property straddling the Salkehatchie River on the border of Colleton and Hampton counties.

Murdaugh’s appeal of those convictions is in the works.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

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.

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8 comments

SubZeroIQ August 24, 2023 at 8:27 am

“‘built by Creighton and me in 2021’ [Eric Bland] said.”
Apparently, Eric Bland is back to paying FITS, if that pay-to-play arrangement ever stopped.
The greater issue of pretend-lawyer-integrity is the use of criminal charges, true or false, to gain advantage in civil litigation.
No one, least of all Judge Clifton Newman, is calling Eric Bland, Joe McCullough, Mark Tinsley, OR Creighton Waters on that.
I quote directly and fully Rule 4.5 of the Code of Conduct for Lawyers IN SOUTH CAROLINA:
RULE 4.5: THREATENING CRIMINAL PROSECUTION
A lawyer shall not present, participate in presenting, or threaten to present criminal or professional disciplinary charges solely to obtain an advantage in a civil matter.
Comment
This Rule is not included in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The language of this Rule is based upon DR 7 105 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

Note that Rule 4.5’s prohibition is NOT limited to false “criminal or professional disciplinary charges,” meaning that EVEN IF the criminal charges were true, IT IS STILL UNETHICAL for the lawyer to participate in them “solely to obtain an advantage in a civil matter.”
Note also that the SOUTH CAROLINA RULE now says “AN advantage,” NOT “a decisive advantage,” or even “an unfair advantage,” in a civil matter.

Eric Bland did not only “participate in presenting” the prosecutions of Alex Murdaugh (“AM”), Corey Fleming, and Russell Laffitte, Eric Bland practically RAN those prosecutions AND BRAGGED ABOUT IT to his advantage in the theft of REPORTEDLY over ten million dollars from Bank of America and PMPED.

Before allowing them to speak at ANY sentencing, Judge Newman should ask Eric Bland and EVERY MEMBER of the Satterfield estate who got ANY MONEY from Bank of America and/or PMPED whether they have ANY PROOF that (1) AM’s dog, Bourbon, caused Gloria Satterfield to fall at Moselle on 2 February 2018; (2) Gloria Satterfield was at Moselle on 2 Febraury 2018 for ANY purpose OTHER THAN working for AM and his family at Moselle; AND (3) Gloria Satterfield’s death IN HOSPITAL on 26 February 2018 was due to that fall and NOT to her diabetis and coronary artery disease.

If they have NO PROOF OTHER THAN AM’s now-recanted say-so to the insurance adjustor, then this whole charade should be shut down. The entirety of Corey Fleming’s and Russell Laffitte’s, and even AM’s, prosecutions should be thrown out because infected with the participation of lawyer(s) with advantages to gain in civil litigation.

There just is no other way to enforce Rule 4.5 of the rules of lawyer conduct, WHICH ALSO APPLIES TO JUDGES WHO ARE LAWYERS, other than to throw out prosecutions infected with the participation of lawyers with advantages to gain in a civil matter. Just as there is no other way to enforce the prohibition against illegal searches and seizures other than to throw out the evidence obtained from such searches EVEN IF it means FEW guilty people walk.

In my own 22-26 February 2010 General Sessions jury trial (where thank God, I defended myself WITHOUT A LAWYER and the jury refused to convict me and ANOTHER judge later dismissed the false harassment charges against me WITH prejudice), none other than Judge Clifton Newman presided and heard DIRECTLY form the supposed “police investigator” who helped Hatchet-for-Hire Heather fabricate the false harassment charges against me that said investigator was in CONSTANT contact with several of the defendants in a civil suit I had brought, did NOT investigate any facts but took them as true because “Mr. Mason said so,” and was receiving faxes and photos from THAT Mr. Mason’s lawyer.
Yet, Judge Clifton Newman did NOTHING about that.
Judge Clifton Newman STILL does NOTHING about that EVEN after I presented him with transcripts comparing testimony and representations TO HIM in my trial with OFFICIAL transcripts and criminal records OBJECTIVELY DOCUMENTING that Hatchet-for-Hire Heather suborned 373 perjuries and forgeries and herself LIED about the criminal records of her witnesses, notably the criminal record of convicted-and-reconvicted durg dealer Cory/Corey Lamont Curry, who loudly threatened to rape me in my own parking lot and stood there grabbing his crotch at me and accosted me in my car with lewd gestures.

Judge Clifton Newman STILL does NOTHING about that and DID NOTHING to defend me, even after he complimented me ON THE TRANSCRIPT as “most pleasant and gracious” and “not frivolous at all, he DID NOTHING to defend me when Kaizar Kittredge, for corrupt reasons of his own, FALSELY castigated me as “frivolous and vexatious” all in order to force loser lawyers on me.

Judge Clifton Newman (who, BTW, is/was FaceBook friends with lawyers attempted to be forced on me) should believe that it is my compassion for him as a loving father that makes me say this TO him BEFORE History says it OF him:
Judge Clifton Newman, all those people fawning over you now because you (intentionally or not) satisfy their lust for blood will turn on you the moment you exercise any independent thinking. Heck, they will turn on you the moment you leave the bench. Then History will take a hard look at what you did AND WHAT YOU FAILED TO DO.
Sins of omission are as culpable as sins of commission. As a church-going person, Judge Clifton Newman should have read or heard the Epistle of St. James or should read it or re-reread it now.

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Ralph Hightower Top fan August 24, 2023 at 11:47 am

Nobody knows what caused Gloria Satterfield to fall, and subsequent death from the fall. Those that were first at the scene and made the 911 call, Maggie and Paul, are dead. The explanation offered by Alex Murdaugh was a scheme conjured by Alex to use his home insurance policy.

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SubZeroIQ August 24, 2023 at 5:46 pm

Exactly! So, how can the Satterfield estate and its lawyers claim they have been “victimized” by not getting money that was never rightfully theirs in the first place?
Those $3 millions should go to the insurance company MINUS the value of the lesson Alex Murdaugh (“AM”) INDIRECTLY taught them about better investigation of fake claims AND firing their adjustors and “defense” lawyers who are clearly on the take.
ALSO the $10 millions the Satterfield estate got from Bank of America and PMPED MINUS the lesson the value of the lesson the Satterfield estate taught them about not getting blackmailed by Eric Bland.
That returned money should be put back in the almost dry pot of money for REAL victims, which the Satterfields are NOT.

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VERITAS Top fan August 26, 2023 at 10:47 am

Sub zero IQ I think correctly and adequately describes your ramblings.

The entire Satterfield case rests squarely on the limp shoulders of AleX Murdaugh, Cory Fleming and Russell Lafitte. They stole the money, however it was obtained, and now AleX Murdaugh, Cory Fleming and Russell Laffitte need to pay. The Satterfields were indeed VICTIMIZED and are being duly compensated.

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VERITAS Top fan August 24, 2023 at 8:38 am

Great reporting! This is good news, including the potential of investigating Judge Mullen. The tipped-scale injustice system in South Carolina is starting to crack. Grateful for Waters and team. I live in the Northern Plains, but systemic injustice anywhere affects everyone.

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SubZeroIQ August 24, 2023 at 5:49 pm

Leave the Hispanic judge alone! How was she supposed to know any of what was going on?
Look to what WASP judges have been doing to non-WASP people for centuries and CONTINUE to do to them.

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VERITAS Top fan August 26, 2023 at 11:08 am

I am curious as to why you bring the term “Hispanic judge” into the conversation. Would like to hear your never-going-to-be-a-satisfactory answer.

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Craig Berman August 30, 2023 at 5:05 pm

SubZeroIQ: the key word in Rule 4.5 is “solely.” The rule has no application if the charges are motivated by two reasons–one of which is not to create leverage for a settlement. Your argument that there was no crime in stealing the funds because the wrongful death case was a sham in the first place is humorous but unavailing. Once the settlement was secured, the money belonged not to Cory nor Alex but the clients. Cory knew “Forge” was a mechanism for Alex to steal the funds. What makes no sense is that Cory reduced his fee knowing that Alex was going to steal everything else. Chris Wilson has some explaining to do too.

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