Former South Carolina lawyer Cory Fleming pleaded guilty on Wednesday to state charges that involve scheming with convicted killer and ex-attorney Alex Murdaugh to steal millions from trusting clients.
Fleming’s sentencing will be in Beaufort County on Sept. 14, presiding Judge Clifton Newman said.
Fleming, who wore jail garb in court, has already pleaded guilty in federal court to various federal crimes that are roughly similar to the ones he was charged with in state court. Last week in federal court, U.S. Judge Richard Gergel sentenced Fleming to 46 months in prison.
But state law enforcement officials — who filed their charges before federal officials — say that Fleming’s state charges involve more criminal dimensions than the federal crimes, especially when it comes to lawyers abusing their positions of trust.
State officials may urge Newman to give Fleming more prison time than Gergel did.
After Wednesday’s hearing, the state attorney general’s lead prosecutor, Creighton Water, declined to comment about the sentence he will request from Newman.
Wednesday’s 70-minute hearing was marked by several unusual events:
▪ Waters spent nearly an hour citing minute details of Fleming’s crimes, the largest of which involved a complex $4.3 million white collar theft orchestrated by Murdaugh to steer funds from an insurance settlement to Fleming and Murdaugh. Normally, at guilty pleas, prosecutors keep their summations of evidence brief.
▪ Also in the courtroom was Russell Laffitte, another accomplice of Murdaugh’s in separate million-dollar embezzlement schemes. Laffitte, a former banker who was convicted in federal court last November, also faces state charges for those schemes. He was in court so his lawyers could discuss various pre-trial technical matters with Newman and Waters. Laffitte is appealing his federal sentence.
Laffitte and Fleming, both men whose lives have been devastated because of their association with Murdaugh, did not speak.
With Laffitte were his two lawyers, Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, and Mark Moore, a former assistant U.S. Attorney.
▪ Waters referred several times to Fleming’s abuse of his law license and taking advantage of clients, a dimension of the case that the Attorney General’s office regards as particularly important. Waters made clear that although federal authorities have prosecuted Fleming, there was much more to the case.
“Today in state court is the first time that we are going to see accountability for abuse of the state court system,” Waters said.
“This is a state lawyer, with a state law license, who abused that state law license, in state court actions, before state court judges, in state court settlements,” Waters told Newman.
This case “demands” accountability from someone who has abused that system,” Waters said.
This story will be updated.