In journalism – as in all facets of life – sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Or just a really, really broken record on an issue that matters.
On the latest edition of our popular Week In Review program – an unscripted, loosely organized recapitulation of the big stories we covered during the previous week – I closed out our segment on the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga by pointing out there had been precious little accountability on the corruption side of the ledger.
Crime? We are getting there with regards to consequences for bad behavior …
Corruption? Not so much …
In fact, we are nowhere when it comes to consequences for the judges involved in this scandal.
Alex Murdaugh was convicted in March of murdering his wife and youngest son – and sentenced to life behind bars for those crimes. He is scheduled to plead guilty next month in federal court to any number of financial crimes – and has a hearing on his 100-plus state financial charges scheduled early next month, too. Meanwhile, two of his co-conspirators on the financial front have been sentenced federally – and one is awaiting sentencing at the state level.
But what about the judges who enabled these fleecings? Judges who, in many cases, signed off on the agreements. Judges who – at a bare minimum – looked the other way when they were handed transparently fraudulent settlement documents for review.
What about those judges? Because it’s been more than a proverbial “hot minute” since we’ve heard anything related to them …
“We have said from the beginning of this scandal – (it’s) crime and corruption,” I noted on the latest Week In Review. “There was crime but there’s underlying system abuse of this system – and we have not seen the accountability for that.”
I named names, too …
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“We are still waiting for the accountability on that corruption side,” I said, specifically calling out circuit court judges Carmen Mullen and Perry Buckner. “A lot of these judges who were thick as thieves with the Murdaughs – we need to continue to keep the heat on that side of this investigation.”
But institutional corruption is bigger than any one scandal … because it permeates all cases.
“It’s not about (the Murdaughs),” I added. “It’s about the integrity of the court system in South Carolina and whether or not we can trust the justice that it dispenses.”‘
Which, obviously, we cannot.
So … about that heat …
In December of 2021 I filed the first report on what at the time was a joint state-federal investigation into “alleged public corruption” tied to the Murdaugh saga. This inquiry – which was purportedly led by state law enforcement assets – was “focused on allegations of judicial misconduct as well as alleged misconduct by various law enforcement and prosecutorial entities in the South Carolina Lowcountry.”
The existence of such an investigation surprised no one seeing as I had reported extensively on all the background judicial corruption – as well as the nervousness of the Palmetto State’s legal community in response to the unraveling Murdaugh drama.
As noted at the time, agents of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) were leading the public corruption inquiry, with assistance from regional assets of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). We also noted there was “some friction” between the state and the feds … friction which has since turned into an all-out war (at least among the offices prosecuting the Murdaugh cases).
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A few months later – in February 2022 – I penned a column urging those following the Murdaugh saga to “not forget about the judges.” Specifically, I called on state and federal investigators/ prosecutors to “root out and hold corrupt judges accountable for any criminal acts committed in their official capacities.” And speaking specifically to prosecutors, I urged them to “deal decisively with any judges found to have violated their sacred oaths.”
That included insisting on “prison time” for any such judges.
Since then? It’s been crickets …
Or at least it had been crickets until late last week …
On Friday afternoon, not long after we finished filming the Week in Review, I received a call from a well-placed source familiar with the status of this ongoing judicial corruption investigation. According to the source – whose account was quickly corroborated by a law enforcement agent with direct knowledge of the investigation – federal investigators have made significant progress in their probe of multiple South Carolina judges.
Among the robes alleged to caught up in the inquiry? Mullen and Buckner … however, two other names were listed alongside them (including one who serves on the highest court in the state).
Crazy, huh? The second we call out a lack of motion in the cases against judges … we receive word those cases (and others like them) were advancing rapidly at the federal level.
Not only that, the federal corruption probe reportedly ties the Murdaugh empire closer than ever to the late Barrett Boulware – an accused drug smuggler, close friend/ business associate of Alex Murdaugh and the former owner of the Moselle property where the savage slayings of Maggie Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh took place.
According to our sources, Boulware is alleged to have procured female prostitutes for at least one of the judges tied to the Murdaughs on multiple occasions.
Who is Boulware?
As we exclusively unearthed in a pair of expansive reports published back in September and October of 2021, Boulware was believed to have been intimately involved in a coastal drug smuggling operation with Murdaugh and others.
In fact, Boulware and his father both faced federal charges in connection with ‘Operation Jackpot,’ a massive anti-smuggling campaign led by multiple law enforcement agencies and the office of then-U.S. attorney Henry McMaster of South Carolina. Those charges were dropped, however, when a government witness met a violent end shortly before the duo were scheduled to stand trial.
According to an April 18, 1983 news brief (.jpg) in The Tallahassee Democrat, a witness who could have implicated the Boulwares “walked into the path of an oncoming vehicle (while) making his way to the Wonder Bar in St. Joe Beach.”
Just like that …
Prior to its spectacular unraveling, the Hampton, S.C.-based “House of Murdaugh” enjoyed near-dictatorial power over a five-county region in the southernmost tip of South Carolina. Three generations of Murdaughs – including Alex’s late father, Randolph Murdaugh III – held the post of S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor between 1920-2006. Murdaugh himself was a badge-carrying assistant solicitor at the time of his arrest in connection with this scandal.
While the feds appear to be moving full speed ahead against the judges which propped up this influence, what is the latest on the state investigation?
Sources close to the statewide grand jury – which operates under the auspices of attorney general Alan Wilson – indicated they were also moving forward with their judicial corruption investigation. They specifically cited Wilson’s increasingly aggressive posture on the issue of judicial reform as evidence of his commitment on this issue.
“I don’t think he’d be out on a limb on that while ignoring evidence of judicial corruption,” one source close to the grand jury said.
As for the federal inquiry, our state source brusquely noted “it would have been nice to know that.”
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.
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