Judge hears arguments on who should control Murdaugh’s money

U.S. & World

Alec Murdaugh awaits the beginning of his bond hearing in the Richland Judicial Center in Columbia, S.C., Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. A judge in South Carolina denied bond for attorney Alex Murdaugh on the second set of charges he has faced since finding his wife and son dead last June. (AP Photo/Lewis M. Levine, Pool)

CHESTERFIELD, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina lawyer involved in a half-dozen state police investigations has been cagey about his assets and should have to hand over control of his money to independent representatives so that he does not engage in further fraud, an attorney told a judge Friday.

Attorneys in three different civil cases have said they fear Alex Murdaugh is trying to hide millions of dollars they could possibly collect in their lawsuits. They said he could shift money between unknown accounts and potentially sell off property and a boat after he turned all his affairs over to his surviving son, Buster Murdaugh.

Murdaugh’s actions since he was sued over a fatal 2019 boat crash “clearly show an intent to secret away assets,” attorney Mark Tinsley told Circuit Judge Daniel Hall in a Chesterfield County courthouse Friday afternoon. Tinsley represents the family of Mallory Beach, the teen killed in the crash.

Tinsley also said claims by Murdaugh’s lawyers that he is broke don’t ring true.

“If they don’t have any money, what would be the harm of enjoining him from spending it?” Tinsley said. “He’s living pretty well for someone with no assets. He has a crisis manager.”

The lawyers said Alex Murdaugh could be hiding inheritance from the deaths of his wife and son in an unsolved shooting at the family’s home in June or from his father’s death from natural causes a few days later.

They also said because Murdaugh has been part of a legal empire in tiny Hampton County, South Carolina, he could have other money coming in from any number of sources.

Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all elected prosecutors in the area. The family’s law firm, located in the most impressive building in town after the courthouse, has won multimillion-dollar verdicts over the past century.

John Tiller, an attorney for both Alex Murdaugh and Buster Murdaugh, said the plaintiffs’ lawyers had no legal basis to prevent the Murdaugh family from handling their own money.

“They are long in facts and innuendo but they are short on the law,” Tiller said, who argued that any claims would likely be covered by insurance.

Alex Murdaugh’s attorneys have not responded to the request to have two lawyers review and catalog all of Murdaugh’s assets, bank accounts, insurance policies and expenditures and approve his spending.

“It’s not like we’re taking his property. We’re preserving his property.” Tinsley said.

The judge said he expects to issue a ruling next week.

Two of the lawsuits involve a fatal February 2019 boat crash where Murdaugh’s son — since killed — was charged after investigators said Paul Murdaugh was driving drunk and recklessly. They were filed by the family of victim Mallory Beach and a man on the boat who said the Murdaugh family tried to pin him as the boat’s driver.

The third lawsuit asking for control of Murdaugh’s money was filed by the family of Murdaugh’s late housekeeper Gloria Satterfield. She died after a fall in the family’s home in 2018.

Murdaugh has been charged with pocketing nearly $3 million worth of insurance settlements that was supposed to go to Satterfield’s estate.

At his bond hearing, prosecutors detailed how Murdaugh allegedly stole the money by diverting it to his accounts. They said he then paid off a $100,000 credit card bill, transferred more than $300,000 to his father and $735,000 to himself.

The lawsuits noted well over half the settlement money remained unaccounted for in the prosecution’s presentation.

Murdaugh, 53, was first arrested Sept. 16 and was accused of trying to arrange his own death so Buster Murdaugh could collect a $10 million life insurance policy. That same day, the father signed a power of attorney for all his affairs over to his son, according to court records.

The motions in the three lawsuits include several documents: a photo of Buster Murdaugh that lawyers said was taken in October at a Las Vegas casino; a nearly $1 million mortgage that a property owner paid off to Alex Murdaugh; an online listing asking $114,000 for Murdaugh’s boat; and a nearly two-year-old unpaid tax bill that could lead to the auction of Murdaugh’s beach home on Edisto Island.

In addition to the investigations into the stolen insurance money and the insurance fraud, state police continue to investigate the shooting deaths, millions of dollars missing from Murdaugh’s former law firm that was founded by his great-grandfather, a 2015 hit-and-run death and whether Murdaugh and his family obstructed the investigation into the boat crash.

Murdaugh insists he had nothing to do with the June deaths of his wife, Maggie, 52, and their son Paul, 22. Murdaugh said he returned to their rural Colleton County home to find them shot to death. Tight-lipped state police have neither named any suspects nor ruled anyone out.

Murdaugh remains in jail without bond on the charges he stole money from his late housekeeper’s estate. A judge handling the Murdaugh criminal cases last week asked for a report on his mental state before considering whether to set bond.

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

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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