In federal court, Alex Murdaugh takes responsibility for swindling millions
Disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh pleads guilty in federal court to stealing $9 million from former personal injury clients, colleagues and friends. Federal authorities now estimate the amount is more, $10.5 million and the crime spree longer.
In a small, half-empty federal courtroom in Charleston, Alex Murdaugh struggled with his shackled hands to sign the guilty plea before him. Mostly local journalists, attorneys and large guards looked on Thursday as the 55-year-old, for the first time, took responsibility for swindling at least $9 million dollars from vulnerable clients and others who trusted him as a high-profile attorney.
Earlier in the week, Murdaugh reached an agreement with federal authorities. If he pleaded guilty to 22 financial fraud crimes and fully cooperated by providing information, they’d ask that his sentence run at the same time as any given on similar state charges. The agreement did not promise leniency.
Murdaugh answered mostly “yes sir’, “no sir” and “I do” to a myriad of questions from Judge Richard Gergel. But when the judge inquired about why he was pleading guilty, Murdaugh’s response was lengthy.
“I am pleading guilty of my own free will because I am guilty. And, for other reasons,” Murdaugh said.
Judge Gergel inquired further about “those other reasons”.
“I want to take responsibility for my actions,” Murdaugh told the judge. “I want my son (Buster) to see that I am taking responsibility.”
“It is my hope that by taking responsibility, the people I have hurt will begin to heal,” Murdaugh said.
Federal authorities told the judge they now believe Murdaugh is responsible for stealing $10.5 million and his crimes date back to 2005 instead of 2011.
“Our goal in holding him accountable for the financial crimes in federal court is to ensure that he is never a free man again,” federal prosecutor Emily Limehouse said following the hearing.
Murdaugh faces more than 100 years behind bars on the federal conspiracy, money laundering, and wire and bank fraud charges. No word on when he will be sentenced. Judge Gergel must first consider a sentencing report.
When asked during the hearing if he was under the influence of drugs, Murdaugh proudly told the judge he’d been clean for 744 days. His defense attorneys have long claimed an opioid addiction played a role in his behavior.
“There’s been a lot of sneering and skepticism about ‘Did Alex have a drug addiction,” defense attorney Jim Griffin told reporters after the hearing.
“Judge Gergel and the probation officer who does a pre-sentence report will be given all those records and they will make a determination as part of that sentencing,” Griffin said.
Murdaugh is scheduled to stand trial on some of the 101 state financial fraudcharges November 27th. Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian would not say if Murdaugh would ultimately plead guilty in the state’s case. Instead, he said he has “serious questions” about whether that trial should go forward and would file the appropriate motions at the appropriate time.
Details of Murdaugh’s complex financial fraud crimes are hardly new. They became a central theme in his highly publicized 6-week long murder trialearlier this year. The prosecution laid them out to prove motive; that is Murdaugh shot his wife Maggie and 22-year-old son Paul to death because a more than decade long crime spree was about to be exposed.
On the witness stand, Murdaugh admitted to stealing and lying. But he insisted he’s not a killer. He still does.
While Murdaugh is currently serving two life sentences for the murders of his family members, his defense team is asking the state’s Court of Appeals for a new trial. They now claim jury tamperingby the Colleton County Clerk of Court.