Alex Murdaugh set to plead guilty to federal financial charges

This would mark the first time the convicted killer has admitted guilt for any crime in court

Andrea Cavallier
Friday 25 August 2023 19:28 EDT
Prosecutors hail Alex Murdaugh guilty verdict

Convicted killer Alex Murdaugh has agreed to plead guilty to stealing millions of dollars from his clients, according to court records.

The disbarred South Carolina attorney requested a “Change of Plea” this week after initially entering a “not guilty” plea on the 22 federal financial charges back in May.

An indictment alleged that Murdaugh, 55, engaged in three different schemes to obtain money and property from his personal injury clients, according to a previous release from the US Attorney’s Office.

If Murdaugh does not change his mind before appearing before a judge on 21 September in Charleston, it would mark the first time he has admitted guilt for any crime in court.

He is currently serving a life sentence for killing his wife and son. But he insisted from the witness stand at his trial that he did not kill them and is appealing his double murder conviction.

If convicted on all 22 counts, Murdaugh would face a total of up to 480 years in prison and fines of up to nearly $13m. That’s in addition to the two life sentences he is currently serving for the June 2021 shooting deaths of his wife, Maggie, and their 22-year-old son, Paul.

Those charges include one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, one count of bank fraud, a total of five counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 14 counts of money laundering.

Prosecutors say he decided to kill them because his theft of millions of dollars was about to be discovered and he was hoping their deaths would buy him sympathy and time to figure out a cover-up.

Alex Murdaugh speaks with his legal team before he is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the murder of his wife and son

Before the killings, state and federal investigators said Murdaugh stole millions from clients who suffered debilitating injuries and who needed money for medical care.

He is charged with stealing from his family’s law firm and helping run a drug ring to launder money. Authorities said he asked a friend to kill him on the side of a lonely highway so his son would get $10m in life insurance. The shot only grazed Murdaugh’s head.

In federal court, Murdaugh faces 14 counts of money laundering, five counts of wire fraud, one count of bank fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Court records didn’t indicate whether there’s an agreement to drop any charges in exchange for a guilty plea.

Attorneys for Murdaugh didn’t comment on Thursday’s court filing. But they said after his indictment on 22 federal charges in May that Murdaugh was helping federal investigators and the charges would be “quickly resolved without a trial.”

The federal allegations are similar to charges Murdaugh still faces in state court.

They include stealing about $4m in insurance settlements meant for the family of Gloria Satterfield, a longtime housekeeper who died when she fell at the Murdaugh home, according to the indictments.

Longtime friend and now ex-attorney Cory Fleming helped Murdaugh steal the money, investigators said. Fleming was sentenced earlier this month to nearly four years in prison after pleading guilty.

Cory Fleming was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this week

Other indictments said Murdaugh and a banker friend, Russell Laffitte, worked together to take settlement money out of client’s accounts, prosecutors said. Laffitte was convicted in November of six wire and bank fraud charges. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and is appealing.

Murdaugh is also charged with creating a bank account that had a similar name to a legitimate company that handled settlements to steal money from clients. He is also awaiting trial on around 100 other state charges. Along with the thefts, they also include insurance fraud, a drug and money laundering ring, tax evasion and theft.

A pretrial hearing on those charges will likely take place the week before the federal guilty plea and would mark Murdaugh’s first appearance outside prison since he was escorted out of the Colleton County Courtroom in handcuffs, shackles and a jail jumpsuit on March 3.

Former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte in mugshot

Murdaugh has been seen publicly only once since then in a batch of photos taken by the camera in his prison-issued tablet computer as the system confirmed his identity so he could use the device to make monitored calls, watch approved entertainment, read books or take video classes.

The photos showed Murdaugh sometimes shirtless and wearing reading glasses in his cell.

Prison officials initially released the photos under the state’s open records law, but after a brief publicity splash, decided that since the photos were taken for security reasons and not as an official measure, they should not have been released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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