MIL-OSI Security: Alex Murdaugh Sentenced to 40 Years in Prison for Federal Financial Crimes

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Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) State Crime News

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Richard Alexander “Alex” Murdaugh, 55, of Hampton, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for 22 federal financial crimes, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud; bank fraud; wire fraud; and money laundering. 

Murdaugh was a personal injury attorney at a law firm in Hampton, South Carolina. He pleaded guilty to 22 federal crimes in September 2023, admitting to engaging in three different schemes to obtain money and property from his personal injury clients.

In one scheme, Murdaugh admitted that from in or around July 2011 until at least October 2021, Murdaugh conspired with his banker, Russell Laffitte, to commit wire fraud and bank fraud. Murdaugh asked Laffitte to serve as personal representative or conservator for numerous personal injury clients. Laffitte collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees as personal representative or conservator for Murdaugh’s personal injury clients. 

As part of the scheme, Murdaugh directed law firm employees to make settlement checks payable to “Palmetto State Bank.” The checks were drawn on Murdaugh’s law firm’s trust account and identified the personal injury clients on the memo lines. Murdaugh then had the checks delivered to Laffitte, who distributed the checks for Murdaugh’s benefit, including to pay off personal loans and for personal expenses and cash withdrawals. Murdaugh pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, one count of bank fraud, and two counts of wire fraud associated with this scheme. 

In November 2022, Laffitte was convicted on six federal charges for conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, and misapplication of bank funds for his role in this scheme. In August 2023, Laffitte was sentenced to seven years in federal prison.

In a second scheme, from at least September 2005 until at least September 2021, Murdaugh obtained money from his clients and his law firm by means of false pretenses. As part of the scheme, he routed and redirected clients’ settlement funds to personally enrich himself, including by:

  • Drafting, or directing law firm employees to draft, disbursement sheets to send settlement funds to Murdaugh’s bank accounts without proper disclosure or client or law firm approval;
  • Claiming funds held in the law firm’s trust account as attorney’s fees and directing the disbursement of those funds for his benefit;
  • Claiming and collecting attorney’s fees on fake or nonexistent annuities;
  • Creating fraudulent “expenses” that were never incurred on client matters and directing the disbursement of settlement funds to pay the cited costs, including claimed medical expenses, construction expenses, and airline expenses;
  • Directing other attorneys with whom he was associated on client matters to disburse attorney’s fees directly to him, rather than appropriately routing the fees through the law firm; and
  • Intercepting insurance proceeds intended for beneficiaries and depositing them directly into his personal account.

Murdaugh admitted that in September 2015, he created a bank account in the name of “Forge,” presenting as a legitimate corporation for structuring insurance settlements. Murdaugh was the owner of and the only authorized signer on this “fake Forge” account. From in or around May 2017 through at least July 2021, Murdaugh funneled stolen personal injury settlements through the “fake Forge” account. Murdaugh pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud and 14 counts of money laundering relating to the theft of client money using the “fake Forge” account.

Finally, Murdaugh admitted that, from in or around February 2018 until at least October 2020, Murdaugh conspired with Beaufort personal injury attorney Cory Fleming to defraud the estate of Murdaugh’s former housekeeper and Murdaugh’s homeowner’s insurance carriers. In February 2018, Murdaugh’s housekeeper passed away after a fall at Murdaugh’s home. Murdaugh recommended that the housekeeper’s estate hire Fleming to represent them and file a claim against Murdaugh to collect from his homeowner’s insurance policies. 

Murdaugh’s insurance companies settled the estate’s claim for $505,000 and $3,800,000. Murdaugh admitted that he directed Fleming to retain hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlement funds for their own personal benefit, representing those funds as “prosecution expenses” to the state court.  Murdaugh and Fleming knew the funds did not belong to them and that there were no legitimate prosecution expenses. Murdaugh and Fleming reduced Fleming’s attorney’s fees, and Murdaugh knew he would steal the additional funds. 

Murdaugh directed Fleming to draft three checks totaling $3,483,431.95 made payable to “Forge.” Murdaugh then deposited the checks into his “fake Forge” account and used the funds for his own personal enrichment. The estate did not receive any of the settlement funds. Murdaugh pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his role in this scheme.

Fleming pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge for his role in this scheme. In August 2023, he was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison.

“Murdaugh’s victims turned to him when they were particularly vulnerable, after suffering serious injuries and losing loved ones,” said Adair F. Boroughs, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina. “They put their trust in him as their lawyer, and he betrayed them. His crimes were cold, calculated, and brazen, and he earned every day of his 40-year sentence. We hope that it provides at least some closure to his victims.”

“Justice was served today and a sentence of this magnitude should caution anyone who engages in financial crimes,” said Steve Jensen, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Columbia Field Office. “The defendant’s actions undermine the integrity of our financial systems and cause distrust. Our message is clear: We will hold those who commit financial fraud accountable, and they will be met with severe consequences.”

“Law enforcement working together at every level is vital to solving crimes and holding offenders accountable,” said Chief Mark Keel of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. “I’ve always said from day one of this case, and every case SLED investigates, is about following the facts no matter where they may lead. Today is another step forward for justice in South Carolina.”

United States District Judge Richard M. Gergel imposed the sentence:

  • 360 months for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud; bank fraud; and two counts of wire fraud affecting a financial institution, all to run concurrently.
  • 240 months for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and three counts of wire fraud, to run concurrently to each other and to the 360-month sentences.
  • 120 months for 14 counts of money laundering, to run concurrently to each other and consecutive to the 360- and 240-month sentences.

Murdaugh’s 480-month federal sentence will be served concurrently with his active state sentences for the murders of his wife and son and the state financial offenses to which Murdaugh previously pleaded guilty.

The court also ordered Murdaugh to pay $8,762,731.88 in restitution to his victims and imposed a $10,034,377.95 forfeiture order for Murdaugh’s ill-gotten gains.

The case was investigated by the FBI Columbia Field Office and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Emily Limehouse, Kathleen Stoughton, and Winston Holliday are prosecuting the case. 

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MIL Security OSI