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Murdaugh’s ex-law firm reaches settlement with dead housekeeper’s heirs, attorney says

The Charlotte Observer logo The Charlotte Observer 10/25/2021 John Monk, Jake Shore, The Charlotte Observer

The former law firm of suspended South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh has reached a confidential settlement with the heirs of Murdaugh’s deceased housekeeper.

“Over the weekend, the Satterfields and the law firm reconciled their differences,” said Columbia attorney Eric Bland, who represents Satterfield’s heirs.

Bland would not reveal how much money will be paid to the estate’s two beneficiaries, Michael “Tony” Satterfield and Brian Harriott.

No lawsuit was filed to reach the settlement. Bland said the settlement came after he sent a letter of demand in recent weeks to Murdaugh’s former law firm, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED), of Hampton.

A reporter called and sent an email to PMPED, asking for comment.

The settlement arises from a now-exposed, alleged scheme by Alex Murdaugh and two friends, attorney Cory Fleming and banker Chad Westendorf, to siphon $4.3 million from Satterfield’s estate to Murdaugh, Fleming and Westendorf.

PMPED was linked to the scheme because Alex Murdaugh used firm stationery and resources in his plan to loot the Satterfield’s estate, Bland said.

However, there was no evidence that others in the firm participated.

Bland contends PMPED should have acted as a “backstop” to Murdaugh’s alleged scheme.

Satterfield, the longtime Murdaugh family nanny and housekeeper, died of injuries received in a fatal 2018 fall at the Murdaugh home. The $4.3 million came from the money from Murdaugh’s homeowner’s and umbrella policies to cover such events.

This month, the S.C. Law Enforcement Division, which is also investigating Satterfield’s death, charged Alex Murdaugh with two felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses in the Satterfield case.

The warrants allege he steered $3.3 million into a false bank account, named for an Atlanta-based financial firm so as not to arouse suspicion.

At Murdaugh’s bond hearing in Columbia on Oct. 19, prosecutor Creighton Waters with the Attorney General’s office said his agency reviewed Murdaugh’s bank records.

Waters alleged Murdaugh used the swindled Satterfield money for personal use in the months after — paying off a $100,000 credit card bill, writing a $300,000 check for his father, and two checks totaling $735,000 written to himself.

“He absolutely used his position, his prestige, his reputation as a lawyer to steal from this family,” Waters said.

Murdaugh’s defense lawyer, Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, tried to shift blame away from his client, instead pointing to Beaufort lawyer Fleming and banker Westendorf.

“Mr. Murdaugh was not a lawyer in the Satterfield matter. He was the defendant. He had no authority over any money whatsoever.” Harpootlian said. Fleming and Westendorf “were responsible for making sure Mr. Murdaugh could not — if he in fact did — purloin that money.”

Beaufort lawyer and Hampton banker

No criminal charges have been brought against Fleming and Westendorf.

Both men have been removed from the Satterfield lawsuit after agreeing to repay all they owed.

Bland would not say how much exactly Beaufort attorney Fleming and his law firm, Moss, Kuhn & Fleming, settled with the family.

An Oct. 6 public statement by Fleming and his law firm revealed no specific monetary figure, but said Fleming and his firm are personally repaying all legal fees and expenses they received from the Satterfield money, and the firm’s malpractice insurance carrier is paying the full limits of its policy. They also repaid an additional $113,000 that was left over in his escrow account, never distributed from the $4.3 million, to the family, according to Bland.

A May 13, 2019, order in the case said that $1.4 million from the Satterfield estate was to be distributed as attorneys’ fees, but it is not known if all of that money went to, or was retained by, Fleming.

Westendorf, of Palmetto State Bank in Hampton, repaid $30,000 that he had received as personal representative, which was originally an over-payment.

Bland said his firm believes the Satterfield case was Westendorf’s first time ever as a personal representative. He attended two hearings, did not oversee whether the money was going to its intended destination, and did not communicate with the sons he was appointed to represent, according to Bland.

The defendants the Satterfield sons are still pursuing: Alex Murdaugh, Palmetto State Bank, and potentially Bank of America.

Bank of America is where Alex Murdaugh held the allegedly fraudulent account. Bland said he is waiting to find out whether the bank followed regulations — verifying whether Alex Murdaugh’s account was not fraudulent when he established it.

In recent filings, Palmetto State Bank said Westendorf acted on his own accord as personal representative, and it should not be held liable. The bank also asks for damages from Fleming, his firm, and Alex Murdaugh, if the court finds that Palmetto State Bank should be considered involved.

“Chad Westendorf was an exemplary person of integrity who has helped and served others and .... at that time there was no reason to suspect or know of Murdaugh’s scheme to defraud and steal, which only came to light in September 2021,” the filing states.

Bland argues that somebody should’ve caught the scheme before it got too far.

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