The law firm which formerly employed South Carolina legal scion Alex Murdaugh on Wednesday sued the embattled attorney to recoup money the firm says Murdaugh slipped into a suspicious account without permission.
The law firm, known by the acronym “PMPED” (short for Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick, P.A.), says its former partner converted “client and PMPED money to his own personal use.”
The firm claims it knew nothing about the situation until recently while explaining Murdaugh’s alleged M.O.:
In early September 2021, PMPED discovered that Alex Murdaugh had a bank account with Bank of America in the name of “Alexander Murdaugh d/b/a Forge”, a fictious entity that provides no services and makes no products for sale. It was further learned that Alex Murdaugh used this account to convert monies owed to PMPED and its clients to his own personal use.
PMPED has determined that Alex Murdaugh was able to covertly steal these funds by disguising disbursements from settlements as payments to an annuity company, trust account or structured settlement for clients or as structured attorney’s fees that he had earned when in fact they were deposited into the fictious account at Bank of America.
The Bank of America account in question may have been named after a Columbia, S.C. financial services group called Forge Consulting, LLC. That business “provided valuable services to some PMPED clients,” the lawsuit says; “those services include brokering structured settlements and annuities as well as the creation of specialized trusts to protect client assets.”
The complex financial arrangements Forge structured for PMPED clients created a situation the firm claims Murdaugh exploited through a financial sleight-of-hand — and through no fault of the real Forge Consulting.
“FCL [Forge Consulting] is an outstanding company that has earned a respected reputation across the country,” PMPED said in the lawsuit — all in a clear attempt to ameliorate any possible insinuation that the consulting company was somehow to blame for Murdaugh’s alleged wrongs. The firm was clear that it was not.
Rather, Murdaugh “was able to use this business relationship in conjunction with his fictious and misleading business name to draft checks from PMPED’s client trust account made payable to ‘Forge’ or ‘Forge Consulting, LLC’ and deposit those checks into his personal Bank of America account,” the PMPED lawsuit alleges. “PMPED was unaware of this scheme until September 2, 2021.”
The firm discovered a suspicious check for professional services made out to “Alexander Murdaugh, Esq.” but not to PMPED. That check raised suspicions at the firm that something was amiss, the lawsuits says:
This discovery prompted a review of prior settlements of cases Alex Murdaugh resolved. This review showed numerous checks made payable to “Forge” or “Forge Consulting, LLC” but the files did not contain the normal documentation that is required to perform the services offered by FCL.
PMPED consulted with FCL on September 2, 2021, concerning the checks discovered during its review of Alex Murdaugh’s files. On September 2, 2021, FCL confirmed that it had not provided any services for the clients identified by PMPED. Moreover, FCL stated that it had never assisted the Defendant with the structuring of any attorney’s fees. FCL was not assisting the Defendant in his scheme and had no knowledge of the improper use of its name or his conduct.
PMPED says it “confronted” Murdaugh about the matter on Sept. 3. That’s the day before Murdaugh was shot in the head — allegedly by a man Murdaugh asked to kill him so he could avoid committing suicide and still pass his surviving son Buster Murdaugh $10 million through a life insurance policy. (It turned out the policy would have covered Murdaugh if he had killed himself, the authorities later said.)
The lawsuit doesn’t mention the shooting. It merely says the firm requested and received Murdaugh’s resignation. It also says the firm “notified the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division of the suspected criminal activity of the Defendant” on Sept. 4. That’s the day of the shooting, and it suggests the authorities likely knew something else was amiss with Murdaugh when the shooting occurred.
The South Carolina Supreme Court suspended Murdaugh’s license to practice law on Sept. 8. That’s two days after PMPED said via the lawsuit that it reported Murdugh for misconduct proceedings on Sept. 6. According to bar records, the suspension is interim at present.
Meanwhile, the firm says it’s trying to clean up the mess — and counting its losses:
PMPED immediately retained a forensic accounting firm to begin a thorough review of all financial activities of Alex Murdaugh while employed at PMPED. This review is ongoing.
PMPED has reimbursed all client trust accounts who have suffered a known loss as a result of Alex Murdaugh’s action while he was an employee of PMPED and working on behalf of clients of PMPED. It is anticipated that additional information may become known that could lead to more losses to PMPED as it protects its clients’ interests.
The lawsuit alleges two counts: conversion and breach of contract. It is filed in the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas in Colleton County. It does not seek a specific dollar amount, but it does ask a judge to order a “discovery of where the missing money went.”
A statement on the PMPED website as of the early evening of Oct. 6 seeks to distance the firm from the alleged acts of its storied-yet-sullied former partner:
PMPED is a robust firm with skilled, experienced attorneys who represent our clients with a fierce commitment to obtaining justice. We were shocked and dismayed to learn that Alex violated our principles and code of ethics. He lied and he stole from us. No member of PMPED was aware of Alex’s scheme. When we learned he betrayed our trust, we requested his resignation immediately. We have yet to speak to anyone who was aware of his addiction to opioids.
While Alex’s situation is tragic, be assured the firm is strong and focused on representing its many clients. We provide legal services locally and statewide. We hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards in handling our clients’ cases. Despite the widespread recent publicity, we continue to work to represent our clients with the same diligence and professionalism as prior to the discovery of Alex’s misdeeds. The funds taken by Alex will not affect current or future PMPED operations. No client of PMPED will suffer a financial loss as a result of Alex’s misconduct.
“This is a very sad development,” said Jim Griffin, one of Murdaugh’s lawyers, in a statement to Law&Crime in reaction to the PMPED lawsuit. “Alex holds every member of the Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth, Detrick law firm in very high esteem. He has pledged his full cooperation to the firm.”
The Murdaugh family drew considerable attention and scrutiny this past summer. Alex’s wife Maggie and his son Paul were murdered on family land this year. Paul had been charged in connection with a boating accident which claimed the life of a teenager. As Law&Crime previously noted, Paul allegedly bought alcohol using his brother Buster’s driver’s license, and Alex allegedly staged a cover-up to benefit his son.
Murdaugh is the descendant of a string of forebearers who held the local solicitor’s job — that’s the term for the local prosecutor in South Carolina — for 87 years.
Read the lawsuit below:
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