Alex Murdaugh gets 40 years in federal prison for stealing from clients and his law firm

 

March 29, 2024



CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — For maybe the last time, Alex Murdaugh, in a prison jumpsuit instead of the suit he used to wear, shuffled into a courtroom Monday in South Carolina and was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison.

Murdaugh was punished — this time in federal court — for stealing from clients and his law firm. The 55-year-old disbarred attorney is already serving a life sentence without parole in a state prison for killing his wife and son.

Federal agents had recommended a sentence from 17 1/2 to just under 22 years.

Murdaugh also pleaded guilty in state court to financial crimes and was ordered to spend 27 years in prison. The federal sentence will run at the same time as his state prison term and he likely will have to serve all 40 years if his murder convictions are overturned on appeal.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said he sentenced Murdaugh to a harsher punishment than suggested because he stole from "the most needy, vulnerable people," including a client who became a quadriplegic after a crash, a state trooper who was injured on the job, and a trust fund intended for children whose parents were killed in a wreck.

Murdaugh stole from people who "placed all their problems and all their hopes" on him, Gergel said.

The 22 federal counts are the final charges outstanding for Murdaugh, who three years ago was an established lawyer negotiating multimillion-dollar settlements in tiny Hampton County, where members of his family served as elected prosecutors and ran the area's premier law firm for nearly a century.

Murdaugh will also have to pay nearly $9 million in restitution.

"There is a staggering human toll to every cent," said attorney Justin Bamberg, who represented several of Murdaugh's victims.

Prosecutors asked the judge to give Murdaugh a harsher sentence because FBI agents think he is not telling the whole truth about what happened to $6 million he stole and whether a so-far unnamed attorney helped his criminal schemes.

Murdaugh's largest scheme involved the sons of his longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield. She died in a fall at the family home. Murdaugh promised to take care of Satterfield's family, then worked with a lawyer friend who pleaded guilty on a scheme to steal $4 million in a wrongful death settlement with the family's insurer.

In all, Murdaugh took settlement money from or inflated fees or expenses for more than two dozen clients. Prosecutors said the FBI found 11 more victims than the state investigation found and that Murdaugh stole nearly $1.3 million from them.

Murdaugh again apologized to his victims at his sentencing Monday, saying he felt "guilt, sorrow, shame, embarrassment, humiliation." He offered to meet with victims so they can say what they want to say and "more closely inspect my sincerity."

"There's not enough time and I don't possess a sufficient vocabulary to adequately portray to you in words the magnitude of how I feel about the things I did," Murdaugh said.

Murdaugh blamed nearly two decades of addiction to opioids and said he was proud he has been clean for 937 days.

Gergel scoffed at this explanation.

"No truly impaired person could pull off these complex transactions," the judge said of the maze of fake accounts, juggled checks and money movements that hid the thefts for nearly 20 years.

Prosecutor Emily Limehouse said Murdaugh's claims don't make sense because he told the FBI he was taking the same amount of pills as he did when his addiction started in 2008, but the amount of money he stole increased rapidly in the years before his arrest.

"He was adamant all of the money was spent on drugs. It doesn't add up," Limehouse said.

Murdaugh was convicted a year ago of killing his younger son Paul with a shotgun and his wife, Maggie, with a rifle. While he has pleaded guilty to dozens of financial crimes, he adamantly denies he killed them and testified in his own defense. There will be years of appeals in the murder cases.

The case has captivated true crime fans, spawning dozens of podcast episodes and thousands of social media posts.

Prosecutors want to keep many of the FBI statements secret, saying they are still investigating the missing money and who might have helped Murdaugh to steal it. They say making the information public would jeopardize an ongoing grand jury investigation.

The defense asked for a lighter sentence, comparing Murdaugh's possible sentence to 25 years for crypto entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried or Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes' 11 years for duping investors, saying they stole billions while Murdaugh's thefts were in millions.

But lawyer Eric Bland, who represented the family of Murdaugh's housekeeper, said there was a big difference.

"Those victims were investing money," he said, standing with one of Satterfield's sons. "They lost loved ones."

 

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