Disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh and his alleged accomplice Curtis Smith have been hit with new state grand jury indictments that include drug trafficking and running a longtime money laundering scheme involving $2.4 million in stolen money.
After a 25-minute hearing Tuesday at the Richland County courthouse, state Judge Clifton Newman put a $250,000 surety bond on Smith, 61, of Colleton County, a distant relative of Murdaugh’s.
“These are serious crimes,” Newman told Smith, who stood before the judge in leg irons, hand restraints and loose-fitting jail sweat pants and a short-sleeved jersey.
Creigton Waters, a top prosecutor in the state Attorney General’s office, had urged the judge to impose a $350,000 surety bond because of the large amounts of money involved and the seriousness of drug trafficking. A surety bond means Smith would have to forfeit a substantial amount of money if he were to be released and does not appear for future court appearances.
Murdaugh, 54, is already in jail, unable for months to make a $7 million bond after being charged with some of the largest white-collar embezzlement crimes in state history.
During the hearing, Smith’s lawyer, Jarrett Bouchett, said if the judge had to set bond, $100,000 would be suitable because of Smith’s minimal criminal record and lack of funds available. Smith also has a debilitating, painful back condition.
Asked by the judge if he had anything to say, Smith, a disabled logger, said, “Your honor, I don’t have any money. All I have is the disability I live off of, and that’s it.”
Speaking in a gravelly voice, Smith continued, “I live in a small house on a modest piece of property. ... I don’t have any assets.”
“I’m looking forward to clearing my name,” he concluded.
Tuesday’s bond hearing is the latest event in an ever-expanding series of criminal acts allegedly committed by Murdaugh, a once-respected lawyer from one of the state’s most eminent legal families, and several of his associates since 2010. Other Murdaugh associates named in indictments are lawyer Cory Fleming and banker Russell Laffitte.
Murdaugh wrote Smith 437 checks from 2013 to 2021 worth a total of $2.4 million, and then Smith used the proceeds to help Murdaugh conceal “a myriad of unlawful activities,” according to the conspiracy indictment.
Nearly all of those checks were written in amounts less than $10,000 to prevent banks from having to report large currency transactions, as required by a federal law so as to detect people carrying out illegal activities.
“Murdaugh drew the checks on accounts under his control at multiple banks, and made the checks payable to various versions of Smith’s name, as well as to close associates of Smith,” the indictment said.
Although much of that $2.4 million went to buy Murdaugh drugs, “a substantial amount of cash is unaccounted for that passed through Mr. Smith’s hands,” Waters told the judge during the hearing in describing what he said was a “money laundering” operation.
Other key points Waters made about the alleged financial theft:
▪ The charges against Smith were brought after an extensive grand jury investigation “with evidence from multiple sources.”
▪ From May 2020 to February 2021, Murdaugh wrote approximately $1 million in checks to Smith. From March 2021 to September 2021, Murdaugh wrote some $973,000.
“What we see around March 2021 to June and thereafter is an extreme acceleration of the amounts Mr. Murdaugh is washing through the aid of Eddie Smith,” Waters said.
About that time, on June 7, 2021, Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, and youngest son, Paul, were shot to death at Murdaugh’s 1,700-acre estate in Colleton County. Waters did not mention the deaths during the hearing, and he declined to answer questions after the hearing.
Smith’s attorney Bouchette told the judge that Smith had been cooperating with the state grand jury’s investigation of Murdaugh’s alleged misdeeds.
Bouchette, in response to reporters’ questions, said afterward that he did not know why, if there had been cooperation between Smith and law enforcement, prosecutors chose to bring serious charges against him now.
Waters and his colleague, Assistant Attorney General Johnny James Jr., declined comment as they left the courtroom.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson on Tuesday morning announced Murdaugh and Smith have been indicted on two conspiracy counts that include a narcotics count related to oxycodone. Smith was also indicted on four counts of money laundering, three counts of forgery, trafficking methamphetamine 10-28 grams, one count of unlawful possession of a schedule II controlled substance and marijuana possession.
Smith, of Walterboro, was arrested Friday by the State Law Enforcement Division and being held in the Colleton County jail. Until Tuesday, the attorney general’s office and the State Law Enforcement Division remained mum on his charges.
Smith has had a long association with Murdaugh, who remains in the same jail to which Smith was brought Monday.
A former client of Murdaugh’s named in a December lawsuit, Smith is alleged to have gotten some $2 million over the years in money that Murdaugh stole from his law firm, clients and associates, according to the lawsuit.
The financial charges in Tuesday’s indictment elaborated on charges first raised in that December civil lawsuit, filed by attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, to recoup money Murdaugh allegedly stole from the estate of his deceased housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield.
In September 2021, Smith was charged with conspiring to commit insurance fraud in aiding a suicide attempt by Murdaugh so Murdaugh’s son, Buster, could collect a $10 million life insurance payout. Murdaugh was charged with insurance fraud.
In that incident, Murdaugh gave Smith a gun and told Smith to shoot him in the head so Buster could get the insurance money, warrants said. But the plot didn’t work. Murdaugh claimed he had a head wound; Smith has claimed he backed out of the plot.
Days after the shooting, Murdaugh announced he was resigning from his family’s law firm and entering treatment for an opioid drug addiction. At the same time, his former law firm, Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth Detrick, also accused Murdaugh of taking money from the firm.
Bouchette told the judge Tuesday that he expects that Smith will be able to easily refute those September charges.
No charges have been brought in the killings of Murdaugh’s wife and son. SLED continues to investigate, and Murdaugh has been named as a person of interest in the case.
Murdaugh attorney Jim Griffin could not be reached.
Reporter Ted Clifford contributed.