Friday April 12th, 2024 7:10AM

Alex Murdaugh faces a South Carolina judge for punishment for maybe the last time

By The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — For maybe the last time, Alex Murdaugh, in a prison jumpsuit instead of the suit he used to wear, shuffled into a courtroom in South Carolina and wait for a judge to punish him.

Murdaugh is being sentenced Monday morning in federal court for stealing from clients and his law firm. The 55-year-old disbarred attorney is already serving a life sentence without parole in a state prison for killing his wife and son.

A report by federal agents recommends a prison sentence between 17 1/2 and just under 22 years for Murdaugh. It's insurance on top of insurance. Along with the life sentence, Murdaugh pleaded guilty and was ordered to spend 27 years in prison in state court on financial crime charges — time he will have to serve if both his murder convictions are overturned on appeal.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled Monday the federal sentence would run the same time as the state sentence.

He also said he was leaning toward a harsher sentence than the suggestion because Murdaugh stole from “the most needy, vulnerable people” like a client who became a quadriplegic after a crash, a state trooper who was injured on the job, and a trust fund meant for children whose parents were killed in a wreck.

“They placed all their problems and all their hopes on Mr. Murdaugh and it is from those people he abused and stole. It is a difficult set of actions to understand,” Gergel said.

The 22 federal counts are the final charges outstanding for Murdaugh, who three years ago was an established lawyer negotiating multimillion-dollar settlements in tiny Hampton County, where members of his family served as elected prosecutors and ran the area's premier law firm for nearly a century.

Murdaugh will also have to pay nearly $9 million in restitution.

Prosecutors are asking to give Murdaugh a harsher sentence because FBI agents think he is not telling the whole truth about what happened to $6 million he stole and whether a so-far unnamed attorney helped his criminal schemes.

Murdaugh's largest scheme involved the sons of his longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield. She died in a fall at the family home. Murdaugh promised to take care of Satterfield's family, then worked with a lawyer friend who pleaded guilty on a scheme to steal $4 million in a wrongful death settlement with the family's insurer.

In all, Murdaugh took settlement money from or inflated fees or expenses for more than two dozen clients. Prosecutors said the FBI found 11 more victims than the state investigation found and that Murdaugh stole nearly $1.3 million from them.

Murdaugh again apologized to his victims at his sentencing Monday, saying he felt “guilt, sorrow, shame, embarrassment, humiliation.”

Just like at his state sentencing, Murdaugh offered to meet with his victims so they can say what they want to say and “more closely inspect my sincerity.”

“There’s not enough time and I don’t possess a sufficient vocabulary to adequately portray to you in words the magnitude of how I feel about the things I did,” Murdaugh said.

Murdaugh blamed nearly two decades of addiction to opioids for his crimes and said he was proud is has been clean for 937 days.

Gergel scoffed at him blaming drugs.

“No truly impaired person could pull off these complex transactions," the judge said of the maze of fake accounts, juggled checks and money passed from one place to another to hide the thefts for nearly 20 years.

Murdaugh was convicted a year ago of killing his younger son Paul with a shotgun and his wife, Maggie, with a rifle. While he has pleaded guilty to dozens of financial crimes, he adamantly denies he killed them and testified in his own defense. There will be years of appeals in the murder cases.

The case has captivated true crime fans, spawning dozens of podcast episodes and thousands of social media posts. It continued its odd twists in the days before Monday's sentencing hearing.

Lawyers for Murdaugh said an FBI agent who conducted a polygraph test asked Murdaugh if he could keep a secret, then confided he had just examined notorious Dutch killer Joran van der Sloot.

Murdaugh flunked that polygraph test, according to prosecutors who want a harsher sentence. Each of the 22 counts Murdaugh pleaded guilty to in federal court carries a maximum of 20 years in prison. Some carry a 30-year maximum.

The defense said the alleged odd behavior and unusual questions from a FBI agent caused Murdaugh to fail the test.

Prosecutors want to keep many of the FBI statements secret, saying they are still investigating the missing money and who might have helped Murdaugh to steal it. They say making the information public would jeopardize an ongoing grand jury investigation.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Business
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