Alex Murdaugh denied bond as he faces charges of taking $3M from housekeeper's death settlement

·6 min read

Alex Murdaugh, the embattled South Carolina attorney at the center of multiple investigations following the deaths of his wife and son in June, was ordered held without bond pending a psychiatric evaluation as he faces charges related to mishandling funds in a former housekeeper's wrongful death lawsuit.

"There is no amount of bond that the court can set that can safely provide protection to Mr. Murdaugh, to the community," Judge Clifton Newman said during Tuesday a hearing.

Murdaugh faces two felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses tied to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the sons of his former housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield. The lawyer was arrested last week in Orlando after his release from a drug rehabilitation center.

Prosecutors argued Murdaugh duped Satterfield's family when he arranged settlement payments from the wrongful death lawsuit to be paid to a bank account he controlled under the guise of a legitimate company. They also argued the lawyer presented a danger to himself and others following his alleged scheme to arrange his murder last month in order for an insurance payout to be made to his son.

The two new charges Murdaugh faces represent "the tip of the iceberg," said Creighton Waters, a prosecutor for the state attorney general office. More will be revealed as the investigations around Murdaugh continue, Waters said.

Newman said he was not considering a personal recognizance bond for Murdaugh after prosecutors and attorneys for Satterfield's family made their case the lawyer had violated the family's trust.

Murdaugh had for years been a staple in the South Carolina legal community and had recently completed a drug rehabilitation program for an opioid addiction that fueled his misconduct, Murdaugh's defense attorneys said.

Murdaugh arranged for at least two payments – one for nearly $3 million and the other for more than $400,0000 – to be made to an account he set up to look like a legitimate settlement planning company after an attorney he recommended to the Satterfield family reached a settlement in their mother's wrongful death lawsuit without their knowledge, according to affidavits from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

Waters mentioned at least one other check worth $118,000 Murdaugh misappropriated and suggested other crimes may have occurred.

"We have never seen such a breach of trust: a man who stole money from the very family of the housekeeper that helped raise his kids," added Satterfield family attorney Eric Bland.

Satterfield died after falling at Murdaugh's home in February 2018, which state police have said they are also investigating. Satterfield's death was ruled due to "natural" causes at the time, but the Hampton County coroner recently wrote a letter to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division urging it to open an investigation because her death was not reported at the time and an autopsy was not performed.

Money, murder, mystery: Another twist unfolds in case of former South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh

Murdaugh told the Satterfield family to hire attorney Cory Fleming to represent them, arrest affidavits say. Murdaugh was a defendant in the family's lawsuit, but directed the family to hire Fleming, a close friend to Murdaugh, prosecutors allege.

Satterfield's sons, Michael "Tony" Satterfield and Brian Harriott, are also suing Murdaugh over the wrongful death settlement funds. The brothers said they were never paid "a dime," according to court documents filed earlier this month.

Each charge of obtaining property by false pretenses could bring up to a 10 year prison sentence for Murdaugh. His attorney, Dick Harpootlian, said last week Murdaugh has accepted he will likely spend some time in prison from the various charges he faces.

Murdaugh at center of other investigations

A member of a prominent legal family in South Carolina's Lowcountry, Murdaugh has garnered international attention as a growing number of cases and state criminal investigations surround him.

In September, Murdaugh was shot on the side of a rural road in Hampton County in what state police later said was an alleged plot to arrange his own murder in order for his $10 million life insurance policy to be paid out to his surviving son.

Murdaugh turned himself in Sept. 16 and briefly appeared in court before posting bail and returning to his drug rehabilitation program.

Murdaugh is facing charges of insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report, stemming from the roadside incident. His former client, Curtis Edward Smith, was also charged with multiple felonies, including assisted suicide and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.

More on Murdaugh's second arrest: Alex Murdaugh facing felony charges in housekeeper death settlement funds case

Murdaugh met with Smith on Sept. 4 to have Smith kill him, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division previously said. Murdaugh believed his $10 million life insurance policy would not have been paid to his son, Buster, had he died by suicide, Harpootlian said.

Smith, however, in an interview with the New York Times, denied involvement in the insurance fraud scheme.

The day before the shooting, Murdaugh resigned from law firm Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick PA, established by his great-grandfather more than 100 years ago. The firm said Murdaugh had misappropriated funds, which state police are also investigating. The firm has also since sued Murdaugh to recover the funds.

Harpootlian has said Murdaugh was suffering from an opioid addiction and grieving the deaths of his son and wife, Paul and Maggie, whose homicides are unsolved. The mother and son were shot at the family's hunting estate in June, where Murdaugh found them dead. His attorneys have denied he had any involvement in their deaths.

During the death investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh, state police also said they were opening an investigation into the death of Stephen Smith, 19, who died in 2015.

Smith was killed in what South Carolina Highway Patrol investigators originally ruled a hit-and-run, but the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said in late June it was opening its own investigation "based upon information gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh."

Smith's mother, Sandy, told the the Hampton County Guardian, part of the USA TODAY Network, in 2015 that she believed her son's death was the result of foul play and a possible hate crime because her son was gay.

Lastly, Murdaugh also faces civil action in connection with a boating incident for which his late son, Paul, was facing charges before his death.

Mallory Beach, 19, was killed when a boat being driven by Paul Murdaugh, who was allegedly intoxicated, crashed into a bridge, flinging her overboard. Beach's family and the family of another person on the boat at the time are suing Alex Murdaugh in connection with the crash.

Contributing: Michael M. DeWitt, Jr., Hampton County Guardian; Daniel J. Gross, Greenville News; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alex Murdaugh news: SC lawyer denied bond on charges he stole funds

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting