CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – A federal grand jury has handed down new indictments against former attorney and convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh on a slew of charges including conspiracy, wire fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina provided details of three alleged schemes in which Murdaugh is believed to have obtained money and property from his personal injury clients.
In the first scheme, the indictment alleges that from about September 2005 until September 2021, Murdaugh devised a plan to defraud and obtain money by means of false pretenses. It says that he routed and redirected client’s settlement funds to personally enrich himself by:
- Drafting, or directing law firm employees to draft, disbursement sheets to send settlement funds to Murdaugh’s 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.
In the second scheme, Murdaugh is accused of conspiring with his banker, Russell Laffitte, to commit wire fraud and bank fraud.
“The indictment alleges that Murdaugh and his law firm asked Laffitte to serve as personal representative or conservator for numerous personal injury clients. Laffitte collected over $350,000 in fees as personal representative or conservator for Murdaugh’s personal injury clients,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in its announcement.
Murdaugh is accused of directing law firm employees to make settlement checks payable to “Palmetto State Bank.” Those checks were then delivered to Laffitte, whom Murdaugh directed to use the settlement funds for his own benefit – to pay off his personal loans and for personal expenses and cash withdrawals.
Laffitte was convicted on six federal charges last November, including conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, bank fraud, and wire fraud for his role in this scheme. He is awaiting sentencing.
Finally, in the third scheme, Murdaugh is accused of creating 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. The indictment alleges that from in or around May 2017 through at least July 2021, Murdaugh funneled stolen personal injury settlements through the “fake Forge” account. Murdaugh is charged with 14 counts of money laundering for using the transactions in the “fake Forge” account to conceal the proceeds of his fraud,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote.
The indictment further alleges that, from in or around February 2018 until at least October 2020, Murdaugh conspired with a personal injury attorney in Beaufort to defraud the estate of Murdaugh’s former housekeeper and Murdaugh’s homeowner’s insurance carriers.
In February 2018, Murdaugh’s housekeeper died after a fall at Murdaugh’s home. Murdaugh recommended that the housekeeper’s estate hire the Beaufort attorney to represent them and file a claim against Murdaugh to collect from his homeowner’s insurance policies.
Authorities say Murdaugh’s insurance companies settled the estate’s claim for $505,000 and $3,800,000.
The indictment alleges that Murdaugh and the personal injury attorney conspired to siphon settlement funds, disguised as “prosecution expenses,” for their own personal enrichment. It goes on to allege that Murdaugh directed the Beaufort attorney to draft 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 faces the following charges:
- One count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000;
- One count of bank fraud, punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000;
- Two counts of wire fraud, punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000;
- Three counts of wire fraud, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000;
- One count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000; and
- Fourteen counts of money laundering, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
“Alex has been cooperating with the United States Attorneys’ Office and federal agencies in their investigation of a broad range of activities. We anticipate that the charges brought today will be quickly resolved without a trial.,” said attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin.