Convicted murderer Richard "Alex" Murdaugh is expected to plead guilty to nearly two dozen federal charges related to financial crimes that started more than a decade ago, according to court documents filed Monday.
The disbarred South Carolina attorney admitted to stealing from his clients during his double murder trial over the deaths of his wife and son in February. After he was found guilty of murder and handed two consecutive life sentences, he was indicted in May by a federal grand jury on 22 counts including money laundering, wire fraud, bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud. That indictment alleges Murdaugh engaged in multiple schemes to steal millions from his clients while working as a personal injury attorney at the law firm founded by his great-grandfather.
Murdaugh initially pleaded not guilty to the federal charges, but he has a plea hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court in Charleston during which federal court Judge Richard Gergel is expected to approve the plea agreement filed Monday.
What financial crimes did Alex Murdaugh allegedly commit?
The federal indictment alleged that from at least September 2005 until at least September 2021, Murdaugh "routed and redirected clients’ settlement funds to personally enrich himself," in multiple ways, including by "intercepting insurance proceeds intended for beneficiaries and depositing them directly into his personal account," according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of South Carolina.
In another scheme over the course of 10 years, the indictment alleged, Murdaugh directed his banker, Russell Laffitte, to use settlement checks to pay off his personal loans, for personal expenses and for cash withdrawals, according to the statement. Laffitte has been convicted on six federal charges related to the scheme and sentenced to seven years in federal prison.
In a third scheme, Murdaugh allegedly recommended the estate of his housekeeper, who died after falling in his home in 2018, hire a personal injury attorney in Beaufort to file a claim against him, according to the statement. After Murdaugh's insurance companies settled the estate's claim, prosecutors said Murdaugh directed the Beaufort attorney to draft checks worth more than $3.4 million and deposited them into a bank account, which Murdaugh allegedly created and named to look like a legitimate company that handles settlements. Murdaugh then used the money "for his own personal enrichment," and the housekeeper's estate did not get any of the funds, according to the statement.
Money, murder, mystery: A visual timeline of former South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh
How much prison time could Alex Murdaugh get?
The plea agreement requires Murdaugh to disclose and forfeit his assets, submit to polygraph exams if requested, and cooperate with authorities. Federal officials said Murdaugh directly or indirectly gained approximately $9 million from the crimes listed in the indictment and requested he forfeit that amount in assets.
The plea agreement mandates that Murdaugh pay restitution to "each and every identifiable victim, who may have been harmed by his scheme or pattern of criminal activity." Murdaugh's assets have already been frozen and placed under control of court-appointed receivers who say that they have managed to locate and liquidate roughly $2 million for his alleged victims.
The federal charges Murdaugh faces carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 or 30 years as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Sentencing for Murdaugh may not happen for months, Assistant United States Attorney Emily Limehouse said.
Murdaugh still faces more than 100 other charges
Murdaugh is facing more than 100 other financial and drug crime charges, according to the South Carolina Attorney General's Office. Murdaugh's next state trial is set for the week of Nov. 27 in Beaufort County. He is also facing a dozen civil suits seeking monetary damages.
If Murdaugh complies with the terms of the plea agreement, prosecutors have agreed to recommend his federal sentence "be served concurrent to any state sentence imposed for the same conduct," court documents said.
Meanwhile, Murdaugh's attorneys have appealed his murder conviction and life sentences, and accused an elected official who served during the trial of jury tampering. Under state law, if Murdaugh's state conviction is tossed out, he may be required to serve his federal prison sentence prior to serving any time in state prison.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alex Murdaugh to plead guilty to 22 federal financial crime charges