The Case of Disgraced Lawyer Alex Murdaugh, Scion to a South Carolina Political Family, Is Only Getting Weirder

The Case of Disgraced Lawyer Alex Murdaugh, Scion to a South Carolina Political Family, Is Only Getting Weirder

If you haven’t been following daily developments of the Alexander Murdaugh saga, you could be behind by dozens of charges. The disgraced South Carolina attorney made national headlines in September, when authorities accused him of arranging his own death by hitman in an insurance scheme. The allegedly staged drive-by shooting happened just three months after Murdaugh had called 911 in a panic, saying he’d found his wife and son shot to death on their Hampton County property. Since then, a dark picture of Murdaugh’s world has developed, including nearly 50 charges that he stole money from his clients.

Just this week, attorney Justin Bamberg said he’s prepared to file nine new civil lawsuits on behalf of eight clients against Murdaugh, his associates, and banks they used in what Bamberg describes as fraud schemes to steal their money. That is, if the parties don’t agree to repay the alleged theft first. “What has transpired is so egregious, it’s gonna go one of two ways,” Bamberg says. “Either all of these people and institutions will voluntarily try to make this right, or, if they choose not to, we are going to file multi-million-dollar lawsuits in Hampton County and let the people of Hampton County make this right.” One way Bamberg alleges Murdaugh scammed people was that he’d offer his services as a lawyer to someone who had an insurance claim, say, from an accident. Bamberg says Murdaugh would convince them to hire a third party friend of his to manage the money; this would allow Murdaugh to hide the financial processes from the client, and he would keep large portions of their settlement money for himself.

Bamberg is particularly angered by the plight of one client, whose deaf son was paralyzed in a car accident. Because he was unable to communicate by sign language, when his ventilator somehow got unplugged, he suffocated to death in 2011 in a care facility. Murdaugh had promised to help his family in a lawsuit against a tire company, Bamberg says, but ultimately stole the settlement money for himself. In this case, Bamberg says, Murdaugh convinced the family to hire a friend of his at a bank as a conservator then funneled the money through the bank. “They knew how he died and Alec still stole money from him,” Bamberg says. “Who does that? Someone with no soul does that.”

The conservator in that case, Bamberg tells RS, was Russell Laffitte, CEO of Palmetto State Bank, who local news reports indicate was fired on Friday after being named in a subpoena by the disciplinary arm of South Carolina’s Supreme Court as part of its investigation into Alex Murdaugh’s financial crimes. According to the newspaper The Island Packet, Laffitte comes from another powerful family in the area: his ancestors founded the bank in 1907, just three years after Murdaugh’s predecessors established their law firm. (Laffitte did not respond to a request for comment.)

Murdaugh, who people sometimes call Alec, is the scion of a long legal dynasty in South Carolina’s small Hampton County, in the state’s southern Lowlands. His father, grandfather, and great-grandather were the county’s elected prosecutors for 87 years in a row. “Back when my great-grandfather was sharecropping and picking cotton for people, a Murdaugh was already a millionaire… prosecuting people,” says Bamberg, who grew up in neighboring Bamberg County. The family was considered untouchable, until now.

Although never a county prosecutor, Murdaugh worked at his family’s law firm — Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick (PMPED) — until he was pushed out in September amid accusations that he’d misappropriate funds. (Last week, the firm removed Murdaugh’s name from their title.) Days after his resignation, he made national headlines when authorities accused him of hiring a hitman to shoot him in a staged hit-and-run so his son Buster Murdaugh could collect on a $10 million life insurance policy. At the time, his lawyer Dick Harpootlian went on Today and said Murdaugh had been in a state of “massive depression” going through opioid withdrawal and had wanted to end his life. Murdaugh’s lawyers did not respond by press time to a request for comment from Rolling Stone. This article will be updated if they do.

He was released on bond after the hit and run arrest, but about a month later he was taken into custody leaving a Florida rehab facility, this time on criminal charges stemming from a September 2021 lawsuit brought against him by the family of his late housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield. Satterfield’s sons claimed Murdaugh scammed them out of insurance money following the 2018 death of Gloria, who succumbed to injuries sustained from a fall at Murdaugh’s house. In that case, law enforcement alleges Murdaugh actually convinced the family to sue his own estate for an insurance settlement and got them to hire his friend as their attorney. The lawsuit was settled in October. An investigation into Satterfield’s death, opened in September by South Carolina’s State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), is ongoing.

Then came two rounds of grand jury indictments on financial crimes. In November, a series of five indictments charged Murdaugh with 27 counts of financial crimes between 2015 and 2021. The charges allege he stole a total of $4.8 million from clients and his law firm, laundering the money through a personal bank account. Seven additional indictments in December added another 21 financial crime counts for allegedly stealing more than $1.3 million from clients and his firm between 2016 and 2020. That month, speaking with reporters, he said that after a 20 year addiction, he was finally off opioids and ready to make amends. “I want to deal with these charges appropriately and head-on,” he said. “I want to repair as much of the damage that I’ve done as I can. I want to repair as many of the relationships as I can.”

Although he’s facing charges of stealing more than $6 million, Murdaugh’s lawyers claimed in a Jan. 4 motion that it’s unreasonable to hold their client on $7 million bond. “Mr. Murdaugh is a man who cannot pay his phone bill,” the motion reads. “The Court’s order requiring a seven-million-dollar surety bond is tantamount to no bond at all.” 

Perhaps most ominously amid the slew of fraud allegations, the housekeeper Satterfield’s untimely demise isn’t the only mysterious death surrounding Murdaugh. There remain the unsolved murders of Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, and son Paul, who were both found dead from multiple gunshot wounds on the family’s property in June of 2021. In October, Murdaugh’s lawyer Jim Griffin said in an interview on Fox Carolina police had considered Murdaugh a person of interest in their murders “from the get-go,” while denying his involvement. “He had no motive to kill them,” he said. “He didn’t do it; I feel strongly he didn’t do it,” Griffin said in the interview. “No one wants to solve this murder as much as Alec.” At the time Maggie and Paul were killed, Murdaugh was in the midst of a still-pending wrongful death lawsuit stemming from a 2019 fatal boating accident where Paul had allegedly operated a motor boat while drunk and crashed into a bridge, killing 19-year-old Mallory Beach. Paul was also facing criminal charges in Beach’s death at the time, including boating under the influence causing death.

In the weeks following Maggie and Paul’s double homicide, SLED cryptically announced that based on information uncovered during the investigation, law enforcement would also look into the death of Stephen Smith, a 19-year-old who died in a supposed hit-and-run in 2015 in Hampton County. Smith was found dead in the middle of the road. Investigators reportedly initially thought Smith’s injuries were from a gunshot wound, but his cause of death was later determined to be blunt force trauma from a car hitting him. No suspect was ever arrested, but rumors circulated at the time about a possible coverup and potential involvement by members of the Murdaugh family. Smith’s mother, Sandy, spoke to the regional ABC affiliate last June. “They said he was shot in the head,” she said. “Then it turned out it was a hit and run, and then [they said] he was beat up, and so the story just kept changing.” 

According to Bamberg, holding Murdaugh accountable for his alleged financial fraud has implications beyond Hampton County. “This case is so important,” he says. “The very fabric of the legal system hangs in the balance of Alec Murdaugh and anybody else who participated being held accountable. Every single person in America should be able to trust their lawyer. Period.” 

He adds that the banks who he alleges turned a blind eye to Murdaugh laundering millions of dollars through a personal account also bear responsibility for the alleged crimes. “Powerful people, influential people sometimes get benefits and are allowed to do things that the rest of us just can’t,” he says. “Banks make money off these large transactions. Everybody that had a chance to stop this from happening — and could have, if they’d followed their own policies — failed miserably.”