Judge freezes Alex Murdaugh’s money as lawsuits grow

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A prominent South Carolina lawyer whose wife and son were killed five months ago and has since found himself part of a half-dozen state investigations and a number of lawsuits had his assets frozen Tuesday by a judge worried he and his son might be scheming to hide money.

Judge Daniel Hall sided with an attorney suing Alex Murdaugh on behalf of the family of a 19-year-old woman killed in a crash on Murdaugh’s boat which prosecutors said his late son was driving.

The family’s lawsuit says Murdaugh is trying to hide millions of dollars they could possibly collect in their lawsuit and 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. He could also benefit from the estates of his slain wife and son and his father who died of natural causes a few days later, attorney Mark Tinsley said.

“They have refused from day one to give me any information,” Tinsley said.

Murdaugh inherited part of a legal empire in tiny Hampton County, South Carolina. Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all elected prosecutors. The family’s law firm, located in the most impressive building in town after the courthouse, has spent a century winning multimillion-dollar verdicts.

Remaining unsolved now for nearly five months are the deaths of Murdaugh’s 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 has adamantly denied having anything to do with their killings.

The deaths lead to five more criminal investigations into Murdaugh, from whether he stole money from the family’s century-old PMPED Law Firm to the events around his housekeeper’s death and insurance payout to whether he or his family tried to obstruct the investigation into the boat crash.

A lawyer for Murdaugh argued at a hearing before the judge Friday that he has not been found responsible in any civil suits since his wife and son were killed and has insurance to cover if he is required to pay damages.

Attorney John Tiller also argued 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 does not have enough insurance.

Murdaugh, 53, remains in the Richland County jail without bond after being charged with stealing nearly $3 million in insurance payments meant for the sons of his housekeeper, who died in a 2018 fall in his home. His legal team did not immediately respond to a request to comment on Tuesday’s ruling.

A judge handling the Murdaugh criminal cases last month asked for a report on his mental state before considering whether to set bond. A date for a hearing has not been set.

While the criminal investigations into Murdaugh continue — he also has been charged with trying to arrange his own death so his surviving son could get a $10 million life insurance policy — the civil lawsuits against him are also piling up.

Murdaugh faces at least six lawsuits seeking money as damages, from claims over the 2019 fatal boat crash to allegations he stole accidental death insurance settlements meant for his housekeeper’s sons and money from his family’s century-old law firm to his own brother saying Murdaugh owes him $46,500 on $90,000 loaned in September in part to get Murdaugh into drug rehab.

The judge’s decision Tuesday only deals with the lawsuit from the family of 19-year-old Mallory Beach. She died after Murdaugh’s boat hit a Beaufort County bridge in February 2019 and her body was found seven days later.

Prosecutors say Paul Murdaugh was driving the boat recklessly while intoxicated and charges against him were dropped after he and his mother were killed at the family’s Colleton County home in June.

Lawyers in two other lawsuits against Alex Murdaugh filed similar motions asking to have the independent lawyers review and catalog all of Murdaugh’s assets and approve whether he can spend money. They will get part of any legal settlements or judgements against Murdaugh in the cases they are involved.

Those cases involve a man on the boat who said the Murdaugh family tried to falsely pin him as the boat’s driver 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.

“He’s living pretty well for someone with no assets. He has a crisis manager,” Tinsley said at Friday’s hearing.

Last week, at least two more lawsuits were filed against Murdaugh looking to collect debts. His old PMPED Law Firm sued, saying they loaned him $470,000 in 2021 and has not been paid back. The law firm has a separate suit against Murdaugh seeking money they said he stole from them. That suit didn’t specify and amount, but legal papers have suggested it is in the millions.

Also Randolph Murdaugh IV sued his brother, saying $90,000 he loaned before his arrest to help his brother make payroll and after the arrest for rehab has not been paid back minus a $43,500 tractor and rotary cutter that court papers said were given to the brother after Alex Murdaugh first tried to sell it.

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

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