When disgraced attorney Cory Fleming pleaded guilty in state court on August 23, 2023 to more than twenty financial crimes tied to the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga, he was well aware it could conceivably land him in jail for the rest of his life. Prior to that, Fleming surrendered himself to federal custody following his sentencing by U.S. district court judge Richard Gergel on August 15, 2023.
Gergel sentenced Fleming to forty-six months in federal prison – nearly four years – for his “amazingly egregious conduct” in a scam that robbed convicted killer Alex Murdaugh’s insurers of nearly $4 million.
To say Cory Fleming has had a rough month would be an understatement – but the case made against him by government prosecutors won’t leave many feeling sympathetic for him.
A contrite Fleming – once again decked out in his striped jail-issued apparel – appeared in a Beaufort County courtroom on Thursday in front of presiding judge Clifton Newman. Represented by Columbia-based attorney Deborah Barbier, Fleming sat quietly for the majority of the sentencing hearing – which began around 11:30 a.m. EDT and ended nearly five hours later.
Lead prosecutor Creighton Waters — who delivered a stirring evisceration of the disgraced lawyer during his plea hearing in August – began Thursday’s hearing with the same fiery passion. After detailing the charges to which Fleming pleaded guilty, Waters told the court, ”your honor, these allegations here, involve the use of state law licenses and state court actions before state judges with state court approved settlements.”
“So ultimately, Mr. Fleming has admitted to a violation and abuse of the state judicial system,” Waters said, repeating almost verbatim what he said last month in Williamsburg County.
“What Mr. Fleming, I think, wants the court to believe (is) that he was a victim of Mr. Murdaugh, just like everybody else, just like Mr. Murdaugh’s law partners, and just like his clients,” Waters continued. “He was tricked and fooled by Mr. Murdaugh just like him.”
That wasn’t the way it went down, though.
Waters pointed out that while Fleming was telling fleecing victim Pamela Pinckney he was “taking care of her,” he was actually using her money to charter a plane to attend the 2012 College World Series with Murdaugh.
This was one of dozens of criminal thefts perpetrated by Fleming and Murdaugh.
Waters continued breaking down Fleming’s crimes for the court prior to allowing his victims an opportunity to speak. Tony Satterfield and Ginger Harriott Hadwin spoke on behalf of the family of Gloria Satterfield — the Murdaugh’s late family housekeeper. Satterfield passed away at Trident Medical Center in North Charleston, S.C. 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. Fleming served as the attorney for Satterfield’s sons at Murdaugh’s recommendation.
Attorney Eric Bland – who represents the Satterfield family – also provided a statement to the court. Bland – known for his passionate oratory – did not hold back in excoriating Fleming.
“In this case, they took every single dollar and never communicated with Tony Satterfield, never communicated with Brian Harriott,” Bland said, adding that in his thirty-five years of practicing law, he has never seen a case where the attorneys took every single cent of a client’s settlement.
Finally, attorney Justin Bamberg spoke on behalf of his client, Pamela Pinckney. Pinckney was a client of Fleming’s after she was involved in a automobile crash in 2009 that left her with serious injuries. The crash also resulted in her son Hakeem Pinckney, who was deaf, becoming a quadriplegic. Her niece, Natasha Thomas, also suffered extensive injuries including the loss of her vision.
Bamberg told the court that due to the statute of limitations, this is Pinckney’s only chance to see justice for the crimes committed against her.
After a lunch break, Judge Newman allowed a number of friends of Fleming to speak on his behalf before Fleming addressed the court himself. A tearful Fleming told Newman he “offers the court no excuses.”
He placed the blame on his own shoulders and no one else’s, adding he felt a profound and deep disappointment in himself. Fleming thanked the Satterfield and Pinckney families for their forgiveness and apologized to them again. He broke down as he apologized to his family, “I love you so much.” He said he will spend the rest of his life trying to earn back their respect. His voice got stronger in his final words to the court, “Your Honor, I know that I deserve to be punished for my conduct. I take full responsibility for my actions.”
Judge Newman began the sentencing portion of the hearing stating this is the second time in his 47 year career of having to deal with sentencing a lawyer.
“This is unprecedented,” Newman said. “This is unimaginable. This is, I think, the greatest crime for a lawyer in the history of the state of South Carolina.”
He then sentenced Fleming to ten years for the crimes committed against the Satterfield family and another ten years for crimes committed against the Pinckney family. He ordered the sentences to run consecutively – meaning one after the other – along with his federal sentence of 3 years and 10 months.
ALEX MURDAUGH AND RUSSELL LAFFITTE …
Prior to Fleming’s sentencing, attorneys for Murdaugh and his co-conspirator – convicted fraudster Russell Laffitte – held status conferences relating to the scheduling of their trials within the state court system.
Laffitte’s latest set of attorneys – Mark Moore and powerful lawyer-legislator Todd Rutherford – told Newman they were working on briefs relating to Laffitte’s federal appeal and were hoping for a trial date in 2024.
Rutherford claimed the state wanted him to waive his legislative immunity – which he indicated he was willing to do. He then noted a December 2023 trial would interrupt with his duties as a member of the state’s notoriously corrupt judicial selection panel. Rutherford – who repeatedly invokes his legislative immunity to stall cases – hypocritically attempted to blame Waters for delaying justice.
“This is the reason cases get old,” Rutherford said, pointing to Waters.
Newman agreed to revisit setting the date in 4-6 weeks to allow them time to determine the status of those appeals.
Prior to the status conference on the Laffitte case came a highly anticipated showdown between Murdaugh’s attorneys – Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin – and lead prosecutor Waters. The drama began after Murdaugh entered the courtroom with a smile – shackled in his orange prison jumpsuit.
The exchanges heated up when Harpootlian and Newman began discussing a change of venue stating, “Where are we going to try this case, Mars?”
He then noted judge Newman’s opinion of Murdaugh’s guilt is clear and asked him to “set aside those beliefs” to give him and Griffin time to litigate the jury tampering allegations they filed last week with the S.C. court of appeals.
Waters argued the charges were serious – calling them “allegations that represent an assault on the state judiciary.” Harpootlian responded that this wasn’t Waters’ argument a year ago when he made the decision to try the murder case before the financial crimes. Waters then deftly reminded Harpootlian that he offered to try the financial crimes first – but the defense filed a motion for a speedy trial on the murder charges.
Unamused by the lawyer bickering, Newman said Murdaugh’s financial crimes trial would be scheduled this year and listed a number of counties in which he believed it could be held. All parties then agreed upon a November 27, 2023 date to begin the trial of Murdaugh on the charges relating to the theft of the Satterfield settlement in Beaufort County.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at [email protected].
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