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Murdaugh pleads guilty to federal financial crimes but may face lie detector test

The former lawyer, who was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of his wife and younger son, must also pay back the $9 million that prosecutors accused him of stealing.
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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to almost two dozen counts of financial fraud and money laundering, ending one facet of a tangled case that exposed the disbarred lawyer's string of crimes and disgraced his family's legal legacy in South Carolina.

The plea deal requires Murdaugh, 55, to pay restitution to "each and every identifiable victim," according to the agreement with federal prosecutors, who accused him of stealing about $9 million from clients in a "pattern of criminal activity" going back more than a decade.

In addition, he may be subject to a polygraph test and could be called to "testify fully and truthfully before any grand juries and at any other trials or other proceedings," prosecutors said.

In return, his federal sentence will run at the same time as any sentences imposed in his state cases.

Murdaugh, wearing a bright yellow jumpsuit and shackles around his hands and waist, addressed District Judge Richard Gergel to accept blame and set an example for his eldest son, Buster Murdaugh.

"I want my son to see me take responsibility," he said, appearing emotional. "I hope that people I've hurt can get healed."

The agreement comes six months after Murdaugh's high-profile double murder trial, in which he took the stand to deny he fatally shot his wife, Margaret, and their younger son, Paul, in 2021 but admitted to some financial misconduct.

A jury found Murdaugh guilty in the slayings, and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. State prosecutors accused him of murdering his wife and son to gain pity and to distract from financial crimes threatening to topple his reputation in South Carolina's Lowcountry, where three generations of family patriarchs had wielded power as the top prosecutors for decades.

Murdaugh has said he suffered from a longtime addiction to prescription opioids, which clouded his judgment.

At Thursday's hearing, he told the judge: "I am proudly clean for 744 days."

He will be sentenced later on the 22 counts of federal financial crimes, including 14 counts of money laundering, five counts of wire fraud and one count of bank fraud. Federal prosecutors say Murdaugh, who worked at the family's Hampton County law firm, cheated clients out of settlement money and created fraudulent bank accounts.

The various charges carry a maximum of at least 20 years in prison.

But Murdaugh's legal woes are from over.

He faces a state trial in November related to his alleged financial crimes — 101 total charges that include accusations that he siphoned off insurance settlement funds in the death of the Murdaughs' longtime housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield. Satterfield died in 2018 after what had been described as a "trip and fall accident" at the family home.

Murdaugh's lawyer, Richard "Dick" Harpootlian, told reporters after the hearing that the agreement with federal prosecutors was reached in anticipation of his state trial.

"There's two things Alex will tell you. One: He stole the money," Harpootlian said. "Two: He did not kill Maggie and Paul."

Justin Bamberg, a lawyer who is representing some of Murdaugh's financial victims, disagreed with the deal that allows him to serve his federal and state sentences concurrently.

"We trust that the South Carolina Attorney General's Office will remain steadfast in its commitment to hold Murdaugh accountable and will give him no breaks and offer no incentives; that ship sailed years ago," Bamberg said in a statement.

Last week, Murdaugh appeared in court for the first time since his murder trial, along with two alleged accomplices, Cory Fleming, a former lawyer and college roommate, and Russell Laffitte, an ex-banking CEO, who prosecutors say aided him in schemes to defraud clients out of money from at least 2005 to 2021. Fleming and Laffitte are serving federal prison sentences.

Lawyers for Murdaugh are also trying to win a new murder trial, accusing the Colleton County clerk of court of having tampered with the jury by "advising them not to believe Murdaugh's testimony and other evidence presented by the defense, pressuring them to reach a quick guilty verdict, and even misrepresenting critical and material information to the trial judge in her campaign to remove a juror she believed to be favorable to the defense."

The clerk, Rebecca Hill, has denied the accusation.

The sprawling case continued to grab headlines this week with the release of the second season of the Netflix series "Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal," in which Hill appears, as does Curtis Eddie Smith, an ex-client of Murdaugh's implicated in a hired hitman plot.

Juliette Arcodia reported from Charleston and Erik Ortiz from New York.