Alex Murdaugh Pleads Guilty to Federal Conspiracy, Wire Fraud, Bank Fraud, and Money Laundering Charges
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA — Richard Alexander “Alex” Murdaugh, 55, of Hampton, has pleaded guilty in federal court to all 22 charges pending against him, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud; bank fraud; wire fraud; and money laundering.
“Alex Murdaugh’s financial crimes were extensive, brazen, and callous,” said U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs. “He stole indiscriminately from his clients, from his law firm, and from others who trusted him. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and SLED committed to investigating and prosecuting Murdaugh’s financial crimes when they first came to light. Today marks our fulfillment of that promise.”
Murdaugh was a personal injury attorney at a law firm in Hampton, South Carolina. He admitted to engaging in three different schemes to obtain money and property from his personal injury clients.
In one scheme, Murdaugh admitted that from in or around July 2011 until at least October 2021, Murdaugh conspired with his banker, Russell Laffitte, to commit wire fraud and bank fraud. Murdaugh asked Laffitte to serve as personal representative or conservator for numerous personal injury clients. Laffitte collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees as personal representative or conservator for Murdaugh’s personal injury clients.
As part of the scheme, Murdaugh directed law firm employees to make settlement checks payable to “Palmetto State Bank.” The checks were drawn on Murdaugh’s law firm’s trust account and identified the personal injury clients on the memo lines. Murdaugh then had the checks delivered to Laffitte, who distributed the checks for Murdaugh’s benefit, including to pay off personal loans and for personal expenses and cash withdrawals. Murdaugh pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, one count of bank fraud, and two counts of wire fraud associated with this scheme.
In November 2022, Laffitte was convicted on six federal charges for conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, and misapplication of bank funds for his role in this scheme. In August 2023, Laffitte was sentenced to 7 years in federal prison.
In a second scheme, from at least September 2005 until at least September 2021, Murdaugh obtained money from his clients and his law firm by means of false pretenses. As part of the scheme, he routed and redirected clients’ settlement funds to personally enrich himself, including by:
- Drafting, or directing law firm employees to draft, disbursement sheets to send settlement funds to Murdaugh’s bank accounts without proper disclosure or client or law firm approval;
- Claiming funds held in the law firm’s trust account as attorney’s fees and directing the disbursement of those funds for his benefit;
- Claiming and collecting attorney’s fees on fake or nonexistent annuities;
- Creating fraudulent “expenses” that were never incurred on client matters and directing the disbursement of settlement funds to pay the cited costs, including claimed medical expenses, construction expenses, and airline expenses;
- Directing other attorneys with whom he was associated on client matters to disburse attorney’s fees directly to him, rather than appropriately routing the fees through the law firm; and
- Intercepting insurance proceeds intended for beneficiaries and depositing them directly into his personal account.
Murdaugh admitted that in September 2015, he created a bank account in the name of “Forge,” presenting as a legitimate corporation for structuring insurance settlements. Murdaugh was the owner of and the only authorized signer on this “fake Forge” account. From in or around May 2017 through at least July 2021, Murdaugh funneled stolen personal injury settlements through the “fake Forge” account. Murdaugh pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud and 14 counts of money laundering relating to the theft of client money using the “fake Forge” account.
Finally, Murdaugh admitted that, from in or around February 2018 until at least October 2020, Murdaugh conspired with Beaufort personal injury attorney Cory Fleming to defraud the estate of Murdaugh’s former housekeeper and Murdaugh’s homeowner’s insurance carriers. In February 2018, Murdaugh’s housekeeper passed away after a fall at Murdaugh’s home. Murdaugh recommended that the housekeeper’s estate hire Fleming to represent them and file a claim against Murdaugh to collect from his homeowner’s insurance policies.
Murdaugh’s insurance companies settled the estate’s claim for $505,000 and $3,800,000. Murdaugh admitted that he directed Fleming to retain hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlement funds for their own personal benefit, representing those funds as “prosecution expenses” to the state court. Murdaugh and Fleming knew the funds did not belong to them and that there were no legitimate prosecution expenses. Murdaugh and Fleming reduced Fleming’s attorney’s fees, and Murdaugh knew he would steal the additional funds.
Murdaugh directed Fleming to draft three checks totaling $3,483,431.95 made payable to “Forge.” Murdaugh then deposited the checks into his “fake Forge” account and used the funds for his own personal enrichment. The estate did not receive any of the settlement funds. Murdaugh pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his role in this scheme.
Fleming pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge for his role in this scheme. In August 2023, he was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison.
As part of his guilty plea, Murdaugh agreed to waive his appeal and post-conviction rights, with narrow exceptions. He has also agreed to be fully truthful with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Provided Murdaugh fully complies with the plea agreement, the Government has agreed—consistent with the recommendation of the United States Sentencing Guidelines—to recommend that Murdaugh’s federal prison sentence run concurrent to any state sentence imposed for the same conduct.
Murdaugh faces the following penalties:
- Conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud is punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000;
- Bank fraud is punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000;
- Two counts of wire fraud are punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000;
- Three counts of wire fraud are punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000;
- Conspiracy to commit wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000; and
- Money laundering is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Emily Limehouse, Kathleen Stoughton, and Winston Holliday are prosecuting the case.
The case against Murdaugh is No. 9:23-cr-396 (D.S.C.). The case against Laffitte is No. 9:22-cr-658 (D.S.C.). The case against Fleming is No. 9:23-cr-394 (D.S.C.).
CONTACT PERSON: Brook Andrews, First Assistant United States Attorney, U.S. Attorney’s Office, email@example.com, (803) 929-3000.