Judge to decide next week who controls Murdaugh’s money

CHESTERFIELD, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina lawyer involved in a half-dozen state police investigations has been cagey about his assets and should have to hand over control of his money to independent representatives so that he does not engage in further fraud, an attorney told a judge Friday.

Attorneys in three different civil cases have said they fear Alex Murdaugh is trying to hide millions of dollars they could possibly collect in their lawsuits. They said he could shift money between unknown accounts and potentially sell off property and a boat after he turned all his affairs over to his surviving son, Buster Murdaugh.

Murdaugh’s lawyer said he hasn’t been found responsible in any of the civil suits and has insurance to cover if he is required to pay damages. Attorney John Tiller added that if Murdaugh loses control of his assets, that would open the door for similar things to happen in countless other cases if the person who sues thinks the defendant doesn’t have enough insurance.

“They are long in facts and innuendo but they are short on the law,” Tiller said during a hearing in a Chesterfield County courthouse.

Circuit Judge Daniel Hall said he would rule sometime around the middle of next week. Alex Murdaugh remains in the Richland County jail without bond, and Buster Murdaugh was not in the courtroom.

The lawyers said Alex Murdaugh could be hiding inheritance from the deaths of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, in an unsolved shooting at the family’s home in June or from his father’s death from natural causes a few days later.

They also said because Murdaugh has been part of a legal empire in tiny Hampton County, South Carolina, he could have other money coming in from any number of sources.

Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all elected prosecutors in the area. The family’s law firm has won multimillion-dollar verdicts over the past century.

Since the June shootings of his wife and son, state police have opened six investigations into Murdaugh and his family ranging from stolen money to insurance fraud for trying to arrange his own death.

Hall was hearing just one case Friday — a lawsuit by the family of Mallory Beach, a 19-year-old woman killed in a 2019 boat crash. Prosecutors said Paul Murdaugh was drunk and driving the boat. The lawsuit said his father knew he was drinking without being 21 and his brother let him borrow his license to buy the alcohol.

The Murdaugh family refused to comply with legal requirements like revealing the value of their assets even before things started to unravel in June, said Mark Tinsley, a lawyer for the Beach family.

“If they don’t have any money, what would be the harm of enjoining him from spending it?” Tinsley said. “He’s living pretty well for someone with no assets. He has a crisis manager.”

Lawyers in the other two lawsuits said they expect similar rulings in their cases. A man on the boat who said the Murdaugh family tried to falsely pin him as the boat’s driver has also sued along with the family of Murdaugh’s late housekeeper Gloria Satterfield. The Murdaughs said she died after a fall in the family’s home in 2018.

Murdaugh has been charged with pocketing nearly $3 million worth of insurance settlements that was supposed to go to Satterfield’s estate.

Prosecutors have accused Murdaugh of illegally diverting the money to his accounts. They said he then paid off a $100,000 credit card bill, transferred more than $300,000 to his father and $735,000 to himself.

The lawsuits noted well over half the settlement money remained unaccounted for in the prosecution’s presentation.

Lawyers in the other two cases said the Murdaugh family is also fighting hard against them. “What does your common sense tell you? If you had nothing to hide, you would turn it over,” said Eric Bland, a lawyer for the Satterfield family.

Murdaugh, 53, was first arrested Sept. 16 and was accused of trying to arrange his own death so Buster Murdaugh could collect a $10 million life insurance policy. That same day, the father signed a power of attorney for all his affairs over to his son, according to court records.

The motions in the three lawsuits include several documents: a photo of Buster Murdaugh that lawyers said was taken in October at a Las Vegas casino; a nearly $1 million mortgage that a property owner paid off to Alex Murdaugh; an online listing asking $114,000 for Murdaugh’s boat; and a nearly two-year-old unpaid tax bill that could lead to the auction of Murdaugh’s beach home on Edisto Island.

In addition to the investigations into the stolen insurance money and the insurance fraud, state police continue to investigate the shooting deaths, millions of dollars missing from Murdaugh’s former law firm that was founded by his great-grandfather, a 2015 hit-and-run death and whether Murdaugh and his family obstructed the investigation into the boat crash.

Murdaugh insists he had nothing to do with the June deaths of his wife, Maggie, 52, and their son Paul, 22. Murdaugh said he returned to their rural Colleton County home to find them shot to death. Tight-lipped state police have neither named any suspects nor ruled anyone out.

Murdaugh remains in jail without bond on the charges he stole money from his late housekeeper’s estate. A judge handling the Murdaugh criminal cases last week asked for a report on his mental state before considering whether to set bond.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.

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