Former attorney Cory Fleming was sentenced to 13 years and 10 months in prison on charges that he conspired with his longtime friend Alex Murdaugh to steal millions of dollars from trusting clients.
Fleming pleaded guilty last month to the financial fraud charges that stem from Murdaugh’s alleged scheme to steal money from the estate of his dead housekeeper Gloria Satterfield. Satterfield died in a fall on the Murdaugh property in 2018.
He was also involved in stealing money from the family of Hakeem Pinckney – a man whose family Murdaugh represented after he was killed in a car crash in 2009.
Judge Clifton Newman handed down a 10-year state prison term that will run consecutively to an almost four-year federal sentence and concurrently to another 10-year state prison term. A twenty-year term was initially widely reported.
While Fleming knew Murdaugh was asking him to do wrong, he said he didn’t realise the depth of his old friend’s depravity.
The sentencing happened on the same day Fleming’s longtime friend Murdaugh appeared in court for his own hearing on financial fraud charges for the first time since he was sentenced to life in prison in the murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul. Judge Newman set a trial date for 27 November for that case.
Before handing down the sentence to Fleming on Thursday, Judge Newman told the court that leniency and mercy are not his responsibility and noted Fleming faced a total of 195 years in prison. Newman then called him to the bench where he imposed the sentence.
“My heart bleeds for you because I have no doubt of the quality of human being you are ... but you must suffer the consequences of your actions,” he said.
For the Satterfield case, Fleming was sentenced to five years for insurance fraud, 10 years for breach of trust, 10 years for money laundering, five years for breach of trust, five years for money laundering, five years for the computer crime.
They will run concurrently for a total of 10 years.
For the Pinckney case: 10 years, consecutive to the federal sentence he’s currently serving (3 years, 10 months), concurrent to other sentences.
There will be a restitution hearing at a later date. The confusion over the total sentencing arose from the judge issuing separate sentences for the Satterfield and Pinckney cases.
Just minutes before he was sentenced, Fleming addressed the court, noting how he had spent many years practicing law in the very courtroom in Beaufort County.
“I was aware that one bad decision or a series can have serious, irreversible consequences,” he said. “I offer this court no excuses,” adding “There are no excuses”.
Fleming went on to say that he knew the consequences of what he did and placed blame on no one else.
“I have profound disappointment in myself,” he added.
He thanked the Satterfield and Pinckney families for their forgiveness and prayer and apologised to them again, repeating his federal court statements. He says they deserved better from him and that he failed them and feels empty from the betrayal.
He then addressed Judge Newman and said he knows he deserves punishment and will spend the rest of his life trying to apply the lessons he’s learned.
On 15 August, Fleming pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges and was sentenced to nearly four years (46 months) in federal prison. He is housed at the Charleston County jail awaiting a prison assignment.
On 23 August, he pleaded guilty to all state charges. Judge Newman had scheduled Fleming’s sentencing for today in Beaufort so that the court could hear from friends and family members, as well as victims.
At the hearing, prosecutor Creighton Waters urged the judge to not be fooled by Fleming’s claims that he was “recruited” by Murdaugh into stealing from the families of Satterfield and Pinckney.
Mr Waters argued that Fleming, who was an attorney at the time, was hired to represent the families but then “behind the scenes colluded with the defendant”.
“What Mr Fleming wants the court to believe is… that he was tricked and fooled by Mr Murdaugh like everyone else,” Mr Waters said.
The prosecutor then pointed to the fake Forge scheme in which Murdaugh allegedly set up a firm called Forge – a fake company with the name of a real one, which was used to siphon off money from clients.
Murduagh and Fleming are accused of securing payouts from insurance companies in Satterfield’s case and then sending nearly $4m in stolen money to the fake company.
“It was a shakedown, plain and simple,” Mr Waters said of Fleming and Murdaugh’s treatment of the Satterfield family.
Defence attorney Debbie Barbier spoke for Fleming and disputed some of the details Mr Waters brought up — specifically that her client did not know Murdaugh was stealing all of the money and that he has acknowledged his guilt.
She argued that no one should be punished twice for the same crime.
“At the heart of this, he’s a good person who made some bad decisions,” she said. “We are all better than the worst thing we have ever done.”
Several people from the community addressed the court, some of whom were victims or knew the victims, while others were there in support of Fleming.
Tony Satterfield, the son of Gloria Satterfield, told the court, “I still forgive Mr Fleming.”
Satterfield’s sister also addressed the court and said that the family forgives Fleming.
“Gloria did not die in vain as her case brought out other corruption and dishonest misdeeds being done to others,” she said, adding that it brought corruption “to light”.
Attorney Eric Bland, who represents the Satterfield family, spoke at the hearing and said the law profession is “stained” by Fleming’s crimes. Fleming surrendered his license to practice law in both Georgia and South Carolina, saying he dishonored the profession.
“The profession we love has been stained,” he said. “Mr Fleming knew exactly what he was doing. He is a plaintiff lawyer... it is impossible.”
He said the debacle involving Murdaugh, Fleming and Laffitte, has “stained our state.”
Mr Bland said the judge and court will hear how Fleming is a good guy, but that “good guys can still do criminal things.”
“I’ve been suing other lawyers for 30 years. Never seen a case where the lawyers took every single dollar. But that’s what Fleming and Murdaugh did. Every single dollar.”
Mr Bland also went over several examples of violations and irregularities in how Fleming handled and filed the Satterfield case to show the depth of the conspiracy and the criminal behaviour.
He says Fleming and Murdaugh sat on the $4.3m settlements knowing that Gloria Satterfield’s son Brian, a vulnerable adult, was being put out on the street because his mom’s trailer was being foreclosed on.
Mr Bland called it “blatant thievery”.
Fleming is the second Murdaugh associate ordered to prison since investigators began scrutinising every aspect of Murdaugh’s life in June 2021 after his wife and son were shot to death at their South Carolina home.
Russell Laffitte, who was convicted of federal charges in November, appeared for a status conference on Thursday in his state case.
One of his attorneys, South Carolina State Rep Todd Rutherford, asked the judge to delay a trial until the fall of 2024. Judge Newman said that he would make a ruling at a later date.
Last month, Laffitte was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to helping Murdaugh steal money from settlements for clients after vehicle wrecks or work injuries. Laffitte is appealing his conviction and sentence.