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Alex Murdaugh faces charges related to missing funds meant for housekeeper’s estate

“Today is merely one more step in a long process for justice for the many victims in these investigations,” authorities said.
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Alex Murdaugh, the scion of a prominent legal family in South Carolina's Lowcountry, was charged Thursday in connection with an investigation into the millions of dollars missing from a settlement involving the death of his longtime housekeeper, authorities said.

Murdaugh was arrested in Orlando, Florida, upon his release from a drug rehabilitation facility, where he had been recovering following his claim that he was shot in the head on a roadside in September, according to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED. He faces two felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses and is expected to appear at an extradition hearing on Friday before he's arraigned in Columbia, South Carolina, his lawyers said.

"Today is merely one more step in a long process for justice for the many victims in these investigations," the agency's chief, Mark Keel, said in a statement. "As I have said previously, we are committed to following the facts wherever they may lead us and we will not stop until justice is served."

The heirs of Gloria Satterfield, a family housekeeper who died three years ago in what was initially described as an accidental fall, have insisted they received none of the proceeds from a $4.3 million settlement they said was orchestrated in secret by Murdaugh.

Satterfield's adult sons, Michael "Tony" Satterfield and Brian Harriott, filed a lawsuit accusing Murdaugh and others of breach of fiduciary duty in failing to pay them. Where exactly the money went and whether others profited remains unclear, but Satterfield and Harriott were entitled to receive over $2.7 million in life insurance proceeds, according to a previously undisclosed order shared last month with NBC News and other media by the estate's lawyers.

The estate's lawyers, Eric Bland and Ronald Richter, alleged that after legal fees related to the settlement were paid, the remaining money went to a company called Forge, which Murdaugh had "made up." A check was sent to a P.O. Box set up by Murdaugh, and he "ended up with all the money," they added.

Cory Fleming, the lawyer who represented the brothers at the time of the agreement, said this month that he and his law firm will pay back the estate the legal fees and expenses they collected and their insurance carrier will pay its "full policy limits," according to the lawyers for the estate.

Satterfield was 57 when she died from injuries sustained from a fall in the Murdaugh home, where she was an employee for more than two decades, according to the estate's lawsuit. The estate's lawyers said Murdaugh had told others that the family dogs had caused her to trip and fall down the stairs. Satterfield was in a coma for three weeks before she died.

Bland and Richter said Murdaugh's arrest Thursday was "bittersweet."

"Since early September the families are dealing with the betrayal of trust and that their loved one's death was used as a vehicle to enrich others over the clients," the lawyers said in a statement.

Murdaugh's lawyers said they had not seen details in the arrest warrant but their client "intends to fully cooperate with this investigation."

Murdaugh's arrest — his second in two months — is the latest in a twisting saga that has raised questions about the family's powerful connections.

Killings unsolved

From the beginning, authorities have considered Murdaugh a person of interest in the deaths of his wife, Margaret, and son Paul, one of his lawyers said in an interview Wednesday, while insisting that his client was not involved.

Murdaugh's actions on the June night that he found his wife and son fatally shot at their rural estate have been scrutinized as state investigators wade through evidence as well as untangle a web of criminal investigations — including the one involving Satterfield's estate — spawned from the double homicide.

Law enforcement "has said from the get-go that Alex was a person of interest," his lawyer, Jim Griffin, told local Fox affiliate WHNS in Greenville.

State investigators have declined to comment about details of the investigation and Murdaugh's status in the probe. Griffin did not immediately respond to a request for further comment Thursday, but he suggested to WHNS that investigators have been unable to connect his client with the slayings.

"You would think that if Alex was the one who did it, that SLED would have been able to establish that pretty easily that night," Griffin said. "You would think they would have searched his house and found blood somewhere. You would think they would have found the murder weapons on the property. You would think they would come up with something to link Alex to the murders, forensically or independent evidence. And to my knowledge, they have not done that."

From left, Paul, Margaret and Alex Murdaugh.
From left, Paul, Margaret and Alex Murdaugh.via Facebook

Murdaugh, 53, who worked as a personal injury attorney, had an alibi on the night of the killings, Griffin said, and was spending time with his mother, who has dementia, and her caregiver.

In a 911 call placed by Murdaugh at 10:07 p.m., he reported finding Margaret and Paul Murdaugh, who were unresponsive.

"My wife and child were just shot badly," he said after finding their bodies near dog kennels on the property.

In the aftermath of the shootings, and despite not releasing names of suspects or persons of interest in the case or potential motives, state investigators said there was no danger to the public.

Roadside shooting

Murdaugh's legal legacy — and deep connections throughout the Lowcountry for decades — quickly threw a spotlight onto him. His father, Randolph Murdaugh III; grandfather, Randolph "Buster" Murdaugh Jr.; and great-grandfather, Randolph Murdaugh Sr., were all elected to the same office as the region's top prosecutor, spanning nearly 90 years.

His personal life unraveled when his attorneys say he hired a friend and former client, Curtis Edward Smith, to kill him over Labor Day weekend so another son, Buster, could benefit from a $10 million life insurance policy. Murdaugh's attorneys said he was depressed over the deaths of his wife and son and was spiraling from a 20-year drug addiction to opioids when he decided that he wanted to die.

Murdaugh was charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report, and he was released on a $20,000 personal recognize bond after turning himself in.

Separately, Smith faces several charges related to insurance fraud and assisted suicide as well as drug-related charges for methamphetamine and marijuana after authorities said they found those in his home.

Griffin denied that the plot was "an elaborate money scheme," but rather the actions of a desperate man "who had lost his will to live."

"If he was going to end his life, he was going to do it in a way that would benefit his son," he said.

Griffin said Smith stood about 5 feet away when he met Murdaugh on a rural road in Hampton County and obliged his request by firing a .38-caliber revolver at his head. Griffin also responded to questions regarding why Murdaugh had no visible head injuries when he appeared in court last month, even though he insisted to police that Smith shot him.

Griffin acknowledged that he also did not see a bullet wound, but he is awaiting hospital records to verify Murdaugh's injuries.

Murdaugh's account is just one of many inconsistencies that have made it difficult to pin down what transpired on the day of the shooting, although authorities in their arrest warrants have offered up his version of events.

But Smith and his lawyer, Jonny McCoy, are pushing back. On NBC's "TODAY" show on Thursday, they disputed that Smith was a willing accomplice as well as claims that he was Murdaugh's drug dealer.

Smith, 61, has said Murdaugh had called him and asked to meet him on the roadside with his work truck. When he got there, he saw Murdaugh had a gun and it appeared he was going to shoot himself, which is when Smith said he intervened. The gun fired. Once Smith realized Murdaugh was OK, he said he drove off.

In his initial account shared by his attorneys after the shooting, Murdaugh said he was checking on a flat tire when he was the victim of a random attack by a person in a blue truck.

McCoy said Murdaugh's shifting stories make him unreliable, while Smith has been steadfast in what he says happened.

"You're perpetuating the lie that Alex Murdaugh put out, and that’s exactly what he's used to," McCoy said on "TODAY." "He's used to people listening to his word, and he's used to people taking that and running with it. And that's exactly what happened in this case."

Other missing money

The funds in the Satterfield settlement aren't the only finances under scrutiny.

Murdaugh has also been accused by his former law firm of pocketing potentially millions of dollars.

The firm — Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick, which was founded by Murdaugh's great-grandfather — filed a lawsuit this month claiming Murdaugh "submitted false documentation to the firm and to clients that allowed him to funnel stolen funds into fraudulent bank accounts."

Another attorney for Murdaugh, Richard "Dick" Harpootlian, told "TODAY" that the "vast majority" of the funds were used to buy opioids and that there were "checks written to drug dealers."

The state's investigation into the allegations remains ongoing. Murdaugh's attorneys said he is remorseful as investigators continue to work on the original case and determine who killed his wife and son.

"He deeply regrets that his actions have distracted from the efforts to solve their murders," they said Thursday.

CORRECTION (Oct. 14, 2021, 2:58 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated when a previously undisclosed order was shared with NBC News. It was last month, not this month.