Former SC lawyer Alex Murdaugh now faces 71 charges; $8.5 million stolen

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — A once-prominent South Carolina attorney now faces 71 charges of stealing nearly $8.5 million in wrongful death and wreckage settlements from more than a dozen of people after another round of indictments against Alex Murdaugh were handed down on Friday.

The 23 new charges issued by the state’s grand jury covered new victims but similar schemes, prosecutors said.

Murdaugh, 53, negotiated settlement money for his clients without telling them what they were getting, then deposited the checks to pay for their pain and suffering or the anguish of the death of a loved one in his own personal accounts – repay loans or debts or in a way that prosecutors have not detailed.

The new indictments extend Murdaugh’s crimes by more than a decade to 2011 and add a new mystery. Several of them said Murdaugh used money orders given to an unnamed family member to get hold of the money, prosecutors said.

Murdaugh has been in jail since October on the ever-growing list of breach of trust, forgery, money laundering and computer crime charges. A judge set his bail at $7million and refused to lower it, even though Murdaugh’s lawyer argued his bank accounts had been seized in civil lawsuits and he could barely afford to buy underwear at the Richland County Jail. He blamed his problems on years of drug addiction.

Murdaugh’s professional career began to unravel after his 52-year-old wife, Maggie, and 22-year-old son, Paul, were killed in a shooting at the family home in June. Murdaugh’s attorneys have been adamant that he had nothing to do with it and have repeatedly said they hope investigators are working as hard to find their killers as they are sorting out Alex Murdaugh’s finances.

Murdaugh is the fourth generation of a prominent legal family from small Hampton County. His great-grandfather, grandfather, and father all served as elected prosecutors, and his family helped run the largest law firm in the county for a century.

Friday’s indictments include charges for Murdaugh’s handling of the aftermath of a shipwreck that left a deaf man a quadriplegic.

Murdaugh took a check for $309,000 he was supposed to give to Hakeem Pinckney’s family and instead bought money orders that were used to cover money he had taken from other clients’ accounts, to pay off a loan and to obtain money for himself and an unnamed family member, according to the indictment.

Then, when Pinckney died in a nursing home from his injuries, Murdaugh secured an additional $89,000 settlement in Pinckney’s name, but deposited that check into his account without ever telling the family of the man, prosecutors said.

The Pinckney family lawyer said the transactions were complex and difficult to track and even more money may have been stolen. Prosecutors suggested during Murdaugh’s bail hearing that they still hadn’t gotten to the bottom of his shady practices.

Pinckney was black, and most of the people Murdaugh robbed were just like him — minorities and low-income people, family attorney Justin Bamberg said.

“Alex gave them just enough money to get on their knees and say ‘thank you, Jesus’ and took the rest,” Bamberg said.

Bamberg said Murdaugh’s longtime law firm, which fired him after learning he was stealing money, his banker friends and other professionals Murdaugh used as personal representatives for injured victims and grieving families or who played other roles in helping his projects last so long should face consequences too, because even if they are not criminally responsible, they should have asked questions.

“We come for your pockets. We’re going to get all the money these people were supposed to get,” Bamberg said.

Another indictment on Friday details how, from 2013, Murdaugh collected 14 paychecks totaling more than $1.3 million for a man whose wife died in a shipwreck and stole all the money for himself.

Other victims have included a state trooper, family friends and an immigrant living in the country illegally, according to previous indictments.

During his bail hearings, Murdaugh’s lawyers blamed years of opioid addiction on his behavior, saying he sought counseling and wanted to make things right for clients he injured.

Murdaugh’s lawyer’s license has been suspended since his arrest in September after state agents said he tried to arrange his own death so his surviving son could collect a life insurance policy of $10 million.

© Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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