The children of a longtime Murdaugh family housekeeper who died in 2018 following what has been described as a "trip and fall accident" are entitled to at least five times what their attorneys initially believed they were owed as part of a wrongful death settlement but were never paid.
As beneficiaries, the two adult sons of housekeeper Gloria Satterfield should have received over $2.7 million in life insurance proceeds, according to a previously undisclosed order. Details of the financial arrangement, which were provided to NBC News and first reported by The State, have been shared with South Carolina authorities, Eric Bland, an attorney for the heirs, said Wednesday.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division opened a criminal probe a week ago into the death of Satterfield as part of a wider investigation into Alex Murdaugh, the embattled personal injury attorney under scrutiny after he was accused of trying to stage his own death over Labor Day weekend in a life insurance scheme, and allegedly stole money from his family's law firm to feed a 20-year opioid addiction.
"In my 33 years of being a lawyer, I've never seen a larger breach of trust, a more concerted effort by lawyers and individuals involved to enrich one person — a powerful person — at an expense of needy clients who are owed fiduciary duties," Bland said.
Attorneys for Satterfield's sons said they received "not a dime" from any wrongful death settlement, and a larger question remains: What happened to the money?
State investigators did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but officials have previously said they want to learn more about how Satterfield died, as well as how the life insurance money was disbursed.
In a lawsuit filed in Hampton County court last week, Satterfield's adult sons, Michael "Tony" Satterfield and Brian Harriott, accused Murdaugh and others of breach of fiduciary duty in failing to pay them as part of a wrongful death settlement.
Satterfield was 57 when she died from injuries sustained from a fall in the Murdaugh home, located in South Carolina's coastal Lowcountry, where she was an employee for more than two decades, according to the suit. Bland said Murdaugh had told others that the family dogs had caused her to trip and she fell down the stairs. Satterfield was in a coma for three weeks before she died, Bland added.
According to the sons' suit, "the exact details of the fall remain unclear," but Murdaugh initially pledged that he was "going to take care of the boys" by suing himself to collect on personal liability insurance through his provider, Lloyd's of London. Ten months after Satterfield's death, a proposed $505,000 partial settlement was reached through Lloyd's, money that should have gone to her sons, but which their attorneys say was never paid to them and they didn't even know they were owed until learning about it through the media.
However, the newly discovered order maintains the sons may be owed more than $2.7 million — part of a larger $4.3 million settlement reached in May 2019 that Bland says his clients were also not privy to.
"None of this is told to the kids," he said. "They've been kept in the dark."
Bland said the order was provided to him by another lawyer representing Chad Westendorf, a banker who in court documents is listed as the personal representative for Satterfield's estate.
The order appears atypical: It has no case number and was not placed in the public record in state court, but shows it was signed by 14th Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen.
Mullen did not immediately respond to a request for comment about her apparent involvement in approving the order.
Westendorf also did not immediately respond to a request for comment. According to the order, he was responsible for paying out and resolving any outstanding medical bills and funeral expenses for the estate.
Westendorf is named as a defendant in Satterfield's sons' lawsuit, along with Murdaugh and another attorney, Corey Fleming, who's described as a "best friend" to Murdaugh and was brought on to help the sons in their wrongful death claim.
Bland said Fleming failed to disclose to the sons his close relationship with Murdaugh and added that it's unusual that Westendorf would have been tapped as a personal representative of the estate when Satterfield had family members who could have stepped up.
Bland said a lawyer representing Fleming told him that after the legal fees 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," Bland said.
Neither Fleming nor a lawyer for Murdaugh immediately returned requests for comment Wednesday. Murdaugh's lawyers have previously said he has been cooperative with state investigators about his finances in connection to money missing from his family's law firm.
Meanwhile, Murdaugh's legal woes mounted Monday, when a lawsuit was filed against him, Fleming and others in connection with a fatal boat crash in 2019 involving his son, Paul.
Murdaugh's wife, Margaret, 52, and Paul, 22, were fatally shot in June at their hunting lodge estate on the border of Colleton and Hampton counties — a double homicide that has put a public spotlight on the powerful family that for three generations was the top prosecutor in a five county region. Authorities have not named a suspect in the deaths of the mother and son. When he died, Paul was awaiting trial in connection with the fatal boat crash, which killed Mallory Beach, 19, one of the passengers.
Murdaugh surrendered to authorities last week on charges that he tried to stage his own killing so that another son, Buster, could collect on a $10 million life insurance policy. He was released on a personal recognizance bond to continue treatment for his drug addiction.
Satterfield's death is one of several threads that state investigators are working to untangle involving Murdaugh.
The Hampton County coroner recently requested her case be reopened because no autopsy was performed at the time of her death and "on the death certificate, the manner of death was ruled 'natural,' which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident."