The day after convicted killer Alex Murdaugh’s guilty plea was filed in federal court on September 21, 2023, a preliminary forfeiture of his assets was filed by U.S. district court judge Richard Gergel. The written plea agreement signed by Murdaugh included the entry of a forfeiture judgment – making previous orders from a circuit court judge and a state court appeal suddenly irrelevant.
Despite the appointment of a receivership for Murdaugh’ assets, the identification and liquidation of those assets, and a plan to distribute the funds to victims – all measures that came about via the 2019 boat crash case in which Mark Tinsley represented the family of the late Mallory Beach – the federal order cited $7.64 million of Murdaugh funds subject to seizure.
A motion filed this week by Murdaugh’s attorneys – Dick Harpootlian, Jim Griffin and Phillip Barber – sought to expedite the process by seeking immediate seizure of his assets. The motion seeks to protect the assets from the receivership – and whatever they might do to distribute them.
“The United States will maintain and distribute the Murdaugh Funds in strict compliance with the law, respecting all legitimate third-party interests and providing restitution to victims to the extent possible, without need of the services of private attorneys whose fees would further dissipate the Murdaugh Funds,” the motion said. “It is inappropriate for the asset forfeiture imposed as part of the conviction and sentence for numerous federal felonies to be managed by private attorneys appointed on the motion of private civil litigants in state court proceedings to protect their future contingent interests in civil litigation. This court convicted Mr. Murdaugh. No other court has convicted Mr. Murdaugh of any financial crime. This court entered an order for the seizure order of his assets. No other court has instituted any criminal seizure or forfeiture proceedings regarding his assets. It is this court, therefore, that must control the seizure and forfeiture of Mr. Murdaugh’s assets.”
The stated arguments for taking the action are noteworthy: To preserve the fund from depletion by attorneys’ fees and to prevent Murdaugh or his attorneys from being able to benefit from or claw back the money.
“Mr. Murdaugh brings the present motion for immediate seizure because the Murdaugh Funds are at risk of substantial dissipation and waste without the court’s immediate action,” the motion said.
Of the more than $2.1 million collected in the receivership, about $1.5 million remains. It was largely depleted because of the amount of attorneys’ fees paid out of the fund. In the hands of the receivers that money is subject to ongoing legal expenses.
As part of the receivership ordered by S.C. circuit court judge Daniel Hall, the attorneys appointed to oversee it – John T. Lay and Peter M. McCoy – have been entitled to a generous portion of the Murdaugh fund. To date more than $660,000 has been expended on attorneys’ fees and expenses.
At the same time, some of the money collected by the receivers included the liquidation of Murdaugh’s retirement fund. The agreement to do so came with the stipulation that Murdaugh could retain $600,000 for his legal defense. Following his conviction on murder charges, Murdaugh’s counsel requested an additional sum from the fund – to cover a $160,000 overage they incurred during the trial.
This effort was denied and then in familiar fashion Murdaugh’s attorneys appealed the matter to the S.C. court of appeals – where it has been pending. The federal order overrules the appeal – which makes it curious indeed that it is Murdaugh’s legal team initiating the motion to seize his assets.
“This is another step in the right direction, and holding Alex accountable,” said attorney Eric Bland, who has been outspoken in his criticism of Murdaugh and his co-conspirators. “The government is not letting him manipulate his assets, or any funds which he wants to secrete from his victims. Walls continue to close in on him. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving convicted murderer and convicted thief.”
Bland represents the heirs to the estate of Gloria Satterfield, the former Murdaugh family housekeeper whose death was used to scam two insurance companies out of millions of dollars.
In support of Tinsley’s efforts to preserve the financial assets for victims, Bland also moved for the appointment of the receivership – which is noted in the motion.
“This is merely a play to try to undo the deal they made in the state court proceeding to get the money where they want it to go,” Tinsley said. “It’s also another attempt for the lawyers to get more fees after the state court denied their petition for more fees. Alex Murdaugh specifically waived any appeal related to the receivers’ taking of his property and as such, it’s no longer his. He has no assets in the receivership.”
Tinsley also claimed Murdaugh’s attorneys were seeking to hide assets obtained in connection with Murdaugh’s participation in a recent Fox Nation documentary.
“I do believe there are significant questions about whether money was paid to or on Alex’s behalf for his participation in that Fox Nation piece – or whether substantial licensing fees were paid for the use of materials,” Tinsley said. “So there may be money that needs to be seized for the real victims, it’s just not in the receivership. We plan on investigating whether such funds have been paid or are owed to Alex or someone else on Alex’s behalf and then pursue seizing any such funds.”
The timing of the federal court activity relating to Murdaugh’s assets occurs just as judge Hall ordered the appointment of a special referee and a schedule for the distribution of the assets last week. The plan for the distribution of the funds included the appointment of L. Walter Tollison, III as the special referee to administer the process of allocating the liquidated assets. In the furtherance of his work, Tollison was authorized to engage the assistance of Peter D. Protopapas.
Those appointments and the related schedule for the distribution of funds have been squashed by the federal order.
As part of his plea deal with the federal government, Murdaugh is expected to surrender $9 million in assets to the government and make full restitution to victims.
The last provided accounting of the available receivership funds reported the amount was $1.756 million. A subsequent order paid out $242, 295.75 in attorney fees and $10,998.42 in expenses – leaving the balance somewhere around $1.5 million.
THE FILINGS …
(Via: U.S. District Court)
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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