The “will-they-or-won’t-they” debate over the proposed federal seizure of convicted killer Alex Murdaugh’s financial assets – currently held by a South Carolina court-appointed receivership – has turned into a hunt for information about proceeds from licensing rights and documentary appearances.
Richard A. Murdaugh, Jr. – a.k.a. Buster Murdaugh – recently sought protection from a subpoena which commanded him to turn over information related to his recent appearance in a Fox Nation documentary.
Specifically, the subpoena sought “any and all records or documents indicating or showing any funds or anything of value of any kind to you or received by your representative showing or documenting any licensing fees paid for anything any way related to the use of anything or any fees for anyone’s participation in the Fox Nation documentary entitled, The Fall of the House of Murdaugh, including any checks, licensing agreements, or anything else.”
The subpoena was sent by Tabor Vaux – an attorney representing the family of Mallory Beach in their wrongful death lawsuit linked to the Murdaugh family. That case settled In July, but the legal wrangling tied to it continues.
At issue is whether Alex Murdaugh has benefitted financially from his participation in the Fox Nation documentary, which is expressly forbidden by the order establishing the receivership.
As with so many parts of the crumbling of the Murdaugh empire, everything traces back to the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Beach family after the tragic February 24, 2019 boat crash that claimed the life of their daughter. On that fateful morning, an inebriated Paul Murdaugh crashed a 17-foot, center console Sea Hunt fishing boat owned by his father into the piling of a bridge in Beaufort County, S.C.
Murdaugh walked away from the crash unscathed. Several others sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Beach was flung into the water upon impact and never reemerged. Her body was discovered a week later by fishermen.
The crash and subsequent lawsuit initiated a progression of events which threatened to expose Alex Murdaugh’s escalating financial crimes. As the web unraveled, prosecutors claim Murdaugh grew increasingly desperate – and that attempts to deflect and delay a day of reckoning was his motive for murdering his son, Paul, and his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, on June 7, 2021 at the family’s hunting property in Colleton County.
As the scope of Murdaugh’s admitted financial misconduct became clear, a receivership controlling his assets was established by circuit court judge Daniel Hall at the request of attorney Mark Tinsley. The receivership was created as a preventative measure to preserve assets for victims of Murdaugh’s financial crimes. Attorneys Lay and McCoy were appointed to identify and liquidate the assets.
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Interestingly, the order defined Murdaugh’s assets to include not only property, stocks, partnership interests, contract rights, and the like – but also inherited assets, intellectual property, all rights to name, image or likeness, all publication rights to the events related in any way to Alex Murdaugh and contract rights ( egardless of whether the assets were previously or presently owned by Murdaugh). It also included Murdaugh’s future assets.
The wording of the order would seem to make it impossible for Murdaugh to profit from television or documentary appearances, book rights and related ventures.
Has Murdaugh attempted to profit from his infamy?
As this news outlet previously reported, the disgraced attorney lost privileges for breaking S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC) rules regarding prisoner communications io participate in the Fox Nation documentary. According to his SCDC inmate record, the disciplinary sanctions included the loss of telephone privileges for 60 days and loss of canteen privileges for 30 days.
As for Buster, the Fox Nation interview was his first major broadcast appearance since his father’s conviction for the murders of his mother and brother – a valuable “get” in the commerce of broadcast media. A motion to quash (.pdf) filed on his behalf claimed the subpoena “seeks information that is irrelevant to the claims in the above-captioned case, overly broad, beyond the scope of discovery, and seeks confidential and private information from a non-party.”
Murdaugh’s defense team appeared as invited celebrities at this year’s CrimeCon festival in Florida – along with lead prosecutor Creighton Waters. At this gathering, comments were made by Murdaugh’s attorneys regarding the compensation they received for representing him – which seemed curious considering their appeal over funds they hoped to claw back from the receivership. Murdaugh agreed to cash in his retirement fund and add an amount to the receivership for the benefit of victims provided he could keep $600,000 for his criminal defense – which left about $420,000 for victims. Having burned through that amount and more, his attorneys petitioned the court for an additional payment of $160,000. After their request was twice denied, they filed a appeal which is making its way through the South Carolina appellate court.
Then, in a move that seems contradictory on its face, Murdaugh’s counsel filed a motion asking the federal government to seize the receivership funds – a move that would also take away their bid to recover the $160,000 overage they are claiming to have incurred as a result of the lengthy murder trial.
Despite the insistence of Murdaugh’s team, attorneys for the government are resisting. They say it would be best to honor the process already established by the Hampton County court.
A plan for the distribution of Murdaugh’s funds is underway with the appointment of a special referee and the imposition of an October 29, 2023 deadline for claimants to submit proof in order to be considered eligible. However, only about $1.6 million remains in the receivership fund – not anywhere near enough to satisfy the multitude of claims.
At the same time, the federal government is preparing to levy a forfeiture judgment of more than $10 million against Murdaugh as part of his sentencing.
How do they anticipate collecting? Well, the discovery of a windfall paid out to benefit Alex Murdaugh – either directly or indirectly – in defiance of the court’s order could potentially boost the amount of funds available to compensate victims. Or result in a windfall for the feds.
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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