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Suits: Fake account with similar name key to Murdaugh scheme

Alex Murdaugh Hampton County
Mic Smith/AP
FILE - Alex Murdaugh sits during his bond hearing Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021, in Varnville, S.C.For a century, the Murdaughs have quietly steered much of the legal world in this corner of the state, by running the prosecutor’s office and a large civil law firm. Then, in June, Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, and son Paul were killed at the family’s sprawling estate. Six investigations are underway, over the killings, stolen money, death coverups and a Sept. 4 shooting in which a bullet grazed Murdaugh’s head on a lonely highway. Police said he tried to arrange his own death and make sure a $10 million life insurance policy would pay off for his surviving son. (AP Photo/Mic Smith, File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina lawyer charged with trying to arrange his own death created a fraudulent bank account to steal money from an insurance settlement for his dead housekeeper and from his law firm, according to two lawsuits filed this week.

An attorney and college friend of Alex Murdaugh said his longtime friend lied to him and misled him about how to handle the estate of Murdaugh's housekeeper, who he was told died in a fall at the family's home.

Murdaugh's law firm, founded more than a century ago by his great-grandfather, said they also had no idea Murdaugh was diverting checks meant for the company that handles legal settlements to his own account by giving his account a slightly different name.

The PMPED Law Firm confronted Murdaugh on Sept. 3, demanding to be paid back, the law firm said in its lawsuit. The day after that encounter, Murdaugh called 911 from a lonely Hampton County road and claimed someone shot him while he was checking on a flat tire.

Police have charged him with insurance fraud, saying he arranged his own killing so his son could collect a $10 life million insurance policy, But investigators said the shot only grazed Murdaugh's head. And the lawyer for the man charged with shooting at Murdaugh has said he was trying to take the gun away from his suicidal friend when it fired.

Murdaugh's lawyers said he remains at an out-of-state rehab facility for an opioid addiction which they blame for his problems.

The missing money from the law firm and the housekeeper's estate are also part of two of six criminal investigations surrounding Murdaugh.

It all began June 7 when Murdaugh found the bodies of his son, Paul, 22, and 52-year-old wife Maggie shot to death outside the family's home. No one has been arrested in that case, with tight-lipped state police neither saying they have a suspect or ruling anyone out. Murdaugh has adamantly denied any involvement with their deaths.

Gloria Satterfield was a housekeeper and nanny for the Murdaugh family for decades before she died in February 2018 after her sons were told by the Murdaugh family that she tripped over the family dog.

Murdaugh spoke to her sons at their mother’s funeral and convinced them to hire Corey Fleming as their lawyer for a wrongful death settlement with his insurance company. But he did not tell them Fleming was a longtime friend, old college roommate and godfather to at least one of Murdaugh’s sons.

Murdaugh and Fleming arranged nearly $5 million in settlements from insurance companies, but the sons never saw a dime and didn't know about most of the money, according to their lawsuit.

The money was supposed to go to a company called Forge Consulting, which handles legal settlements. Instead, Murdaugh had created a bank account called “Alexander Murdaugh d/b/a Forge” and asked the checks be written simply to “Forge” and deposited them into his fraudulent account, according to the lawsuit by Satterfield's estate.

A joint statement by Fleming and Satterfield's lawyers said Fleming didn't know what Murdaugh was doing and was cooperating fully.

“Mr. Fleming trusted his close friend and colleague to deal with him truthfully and honorably, only to be misled and deceived in one of the worst possible ways,” the statement said.

Fleming acknowledged making mistakes and is repaying all the legal fees charged to Satterfield's estate and adding an unspecified settlement from the lawyer's malpractice insurance, the settlement said.

The suit by Murdaugh's law firm lays out a similar scheme where Murdaugh would take payments that were supposed to go to the consulting company and instead deposit them into his similar-sounding account.

PMPED Law Firm wants to find out if Murdaugh has been paid for any future books, appearances or other publicity surrounding his life, the firm said in a statement.

Murdaugh's lawyers issued a statement after the lawsuit saying he will cooperate and still holds in high esteem the firm founded by his great-grandfather and where his brother still works.

The lawsuit said the firm started investigating Murdaugh on Sept. 2 when it found a suspicious check on his desk. They confronted him about the fake bank account the next day and fired him. Murdaugh reported the shooting a day later.


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.