Court approves $4.3M judgement for estate of Alex Murdaugh housekeeper Gloria Satterfield

By Drew Tripp (WCIV)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCIV)– A judge and court appointed financial overseers have approved Alex Murdaugh’s $4.3M confession of judgment in connection to the death settlement theft scheme against the estate of his former housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield.

Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, attorneys for Satterfield’s family, announced Wednesday a judge and the receivers in control of Murdaugh’s finances have approved an unopposed and enforceable “confession of judgment” by Murdaugh.

By confessing judgment, Murdaugh admits Satterfield’s family is owed $4.3 million they sought from him in a lawsuit filed on their behalf back in September 2021. The $4.3 million dollar figure represents the amount of insurance settlement money Murdaugh is accused of stealing from the Satterfield estate after her death.

“This judgment is both meaningful and symbolic for (Satterfield’s) sons to have obtained from Alex Murdaugh for a number of reasons,” Bland and Richter said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “By this judgment, Mr. Murdaugh admits that the allegations contained in the complaint against him are true and admits that he stole the $4.3 million settlement funds that belonged to Gloria’s estate. This sad saga on so many levels is nearing the end for Gloria’s family.”

Wednesday’s approval of the confession of judgment comes after months of legal wrangling among attorneys over the final judgment order.

Dick Harpootlian, defense attorney for Alex Murdaugh, initially announced in December 2021 Murdaugh’s intention to confess judgment, and extended an apology to the Satterfield family on Murdaugh’s behalf. It wasn’t until March that Harpootlian and co-counsel Jim Griffin filed their draft proposal for the judgment.

Meanwhile, Murdaugh remains in jail awaiting trial on 75 criminal charges related to the Satterfield settlement theft and several similar cases. Murdaugh is accused of hatching schemes to steal millions of dollars worth of death and injury settlement money meant for his own clients.

In the Satterfield case, prosecutors say the money was coming from Murdaugh’s homeowner’s insurance policy providers, and was meant to go toward the survivorship of Satterfield’s family after she died from complications of an alleged trip-&-fall accident at Murdaugh’s home in February 2018.

Prosecutors say Alex Murdaugh came to Gloria’s sons after her death under the guise of altruism, saying they should sue his insurance companies and promising he would admit fault so they’d get a large settlement.

But Satterfield’s sons, Tony Satterfield and Brian Harriott, never saw “a dime of that money,” according to Bland and Richter.

Murdaugh has been in jail without release since October 2021. State prosecutors have accused Murdaugh of working in concert with fellow attorney Cory Fleming and banker Russell Laffitte to steal north of $8.4 million dollars from Murdaugh’s own clients and family law firm over the course of at least a decade.

Fleming and Laffitte both have been criminally charged in connection to Murdaugh’s alleged theft schemes, as well.

After taking the money from his clients, Murdaugh is accused of laundering it through a fraudulent bank account he set up mimicking a legitimate firm that handles structured settlements for people who win money in court, knowing his own law firm would be less likely to question checks sent to that firm.

While in jail, a judge issued an injunction essentially freezing Murdaugh’s assets, and appointing two attorneys to be in charge of all his finances in an effort to prevent Murdaugh and his family from selling off property and hiding cash on hand.

Those court-appointed receivers of Murdaugh’s finances — attorneys John T. Lay and Peter McCoy — are also charged with recovering all Murdaugh’s money for the sake of divvying it up among creditors and civil litigants who he may be ordered to pay in additional judgments from a half-dozen pending civil lawsuits.

While Wednesday’s order puts the Satterfield family first in line for judgements from Murdaugh, it’s not a guarantee they will receive the entirety of the $4.3 million Murdaugh has confessed to owing.

How much the Satterfield family gets will depend on how much money receivers Lay and McCoy can collect from Murdaugh.

An analysis of Murdaugh’s assets based on available public records puts his net worth near $5 million, perhaps higher.

The bulk of Murdaugh’s wealth comes from the value of the estate of his late wife, Maggie Murdaugh, who was found murdered at the Murdaugh family home last June alongside their youngest son, Paul. Their killings remain unsolved.

Probate records in Colleton County show Maggie Murdaugh’s will, dated 2005, stated Alex should be the beneficiary of all her assets upon her death.

An appraisal of Maggie’s estate filed in March coincidentally estimated a gross value of $4.3 million dollars, with a net value of $2.1 million after the satisfaction of debts owed at the time of her death.

Real estate makes up the bulk of Maggie Murdaugh’s estate worth. The Murdaugh home and property in Colleton County’s Moselle community is listed for sale at $3.9 million, and their home on Edisto Beach has received a sale offer of $955,000.

Alex Murdaugh has his own assets worth millions, as well. Lay and McCoy say Murdaugh has $2 million in a retirement account, and is due a “seven figure” inheritance of at least $1 million from his father’s estate, which also is going through probate.

Murdaugh’s other personal assets include real property in the form of seven small sea island properties he owns or co-owns around Beaufort, two investment properties he owns in Berkeley County, and $10,000 in cash.

Satterfield’s estate appears to have lost the most total money in Murdaugh’s many theft schemes, but the Satterfields are not the only victims seeking money from Murdaugh. The family of Mallory Beach has filed a creditor claim against Maggie Murdaugh’s estate proceeds, as have Morgan Doughty and Miley Altman.

Beach, Altman and Doughty were passengers onboard Alex Murdaugh’s boat early the morning of February 24, 2019 when the boat crashed into a bridge at a high rate of speed, leading to Beach’s death and significant injury for Altman along with another passenger, Connor Cook.

Paul Murdaugh is alleged to have been driving the boat at the time of the crash, and was reportedly grossly intoxicated after a night of underage drinking, supposedly made possible by using his parents’ credit card and his older brother Buster’s driver’s license as a fake ID to buy alcohol.

Lawsuits against Alex Murdaugh have been filed by Beach’s family, Doughty, Altman, Connor Cook and Anthony Cook. Beach’s family’s lawsuit was filed weeks after her death in 2019, and was set to go to trial in 2021 until the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.

Court records relating to Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes indicate he used fear of a looming judgement in favor of the Beach family in their lawsuit against him to justify some of thefts he’s accused of.

What remains unclear is what happened to all the $8.4 million Murdaugh is accused of stealing. Much of it reportedly went toward paying off debts and personal expenses, but a good deal of it also apparently went to Murdaugh’s family members and associates in the form of checks and money orders.

Recovery of that stolen money could positively influence how much money Murdaugh’s victims receive from him should a court order Murdaugh to pay.

Even if the Satterfield family doesn’t get the full $4.3 million to which Murdaugh has, attorneys Bland and Richter already have recovered a substantial amount for the Satterfield family through settlements from other parties sued in connection to the stealing from Satterfield.

As of March, Bland and Richter said they’d recovered about $7.5 million in total for Satterfield’s family, not including the $4.3 million from Murdaugh.

Some of that money will go toward funding a foundation in Gloria’s honor, Bland and Richter announced Wednesday. Further details are expected to be announced at a press conference in a few weeks.

“A foundation that is being formed in Gloria’s honor (…) will benefit underprivileged Hampton County families; good God fearing, law abiding and hard working people like Gloria who struggle to make ends meet will be the beneficiaries of this foundation,” Bland and Richter said. “The foundation’s name will say it all and it is intended that this foundation will be long lasting and be sustained through the funding of others.

“As we have said all along, Gloria did not die in vain. Her death now had a purpose. It was a part in taking down Alex and others and some of the funds recovered will be used to benefit others,” the attorneys added.

Additionally, Richter said in a phone interview Wednesday SLED investigators continue to investigate the circumstances of Satterfield’s death, and have requested the family’s permission to exhume Satterfield’s remains as part of that investigation.

Since her death as a result of a stroke in the weeks after her February 2018 injury at Murdaugh’s home, the accepted narrative on how Satterfield died has been she fell down the brick front stairs of the home after being tripped by Murdaugh’s dogs.

According to Bland, it was Alex Murdaugh who shared that account of Satterfield’s injuries, blaming his dogs for causing the fall. Neither Maggie nor Paul Murdaugh mentioned dogs causing the fall in a 911 call in the moment’s after the incident.

However, SLED opened a new investigation into Satterfield’s death after Hampton County Coroner Angie Topper brought worries about potential mishandling of the case to state police.

Topper in a letter to SLED Chief Mark Keel sent last September said Satterfield’s death was not reported to her predecessor at the time it occurred, nor was an autopsy performed.

Additionally, Topper noted Satterfield’s death certificate listed the manner of death as “natural,” which Topper claims would be inconsistent with the traumatic head injuries Satterfield suffered and the ultimate cardiac arrest and stroke which followed while she remained hospitalized.

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