Cory Fleming pleads guilty to role in Murdaugh plot to steal $4.3M from dead housekeeper

Once he stood beside people accused of crimes, representing them in their time of trial.

But on Thursday, Cory Fleming — a once-respected criminal defense lawyer from Beaufort and close friend of now-convicted double-murderer Alex Murdaugh — stood in front of a federal judge and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a scheme involving the theft of $4.3 million.

The crime to which Fleming, 54, pleaded guilty involved his role in a plot to steal $4.3 million in insurance proceeds from the sons of the Murdaugh family’s late housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, who died of injuries received in a fall on Murdaugh’s estate in February 2018.

Fleming, Murdaugh scheme involved Satterfield estate

Fleming is now the second close associate of Murdaugh to be tainted by their relationship to Murdaugh, the state’s most notorious criminal, now serving two consecutive life sentences for murders of his wife and youngest son.

Fleming was a law school classmate of Murdaugh’s at the University of South Carolina School of Law. Both graduated in 1994 and had remained close friends.

In November, another childhood friend, former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte was found guilty in federal court of using his bank to help Murdaugh steal money from clients who had gotten sizeable payouts in personal injury cases.

An eight-page federal criminal charging document about Fleming, made public Wednesday said Murdaugh used Fleming’s position as a lawyer to swindle Satterfield’s sons, Tony Satterfield and Brian Harriott, out of $4.3 million owed to them from Murdaugh’s liability insurance.

After Gloria Satterfield died in 2018, Murdaugh persuaded her sons to hire Fleming to represent them and submit a claim against Murdaugh to collect from his homeowner’s insurance policy. Murdaugh had insurance on his property through Lloyd’s of London and Nautilus Insurance Group.

The sons hired Fleming, and he and Murdaugh began their scheme to collect $4.3 million and keep the money themselves instead of giving it to the sons, the charging document said.

Part of the scheme involved getting a vice president at Palmetto State Bank to serve as the personal representative of Satterfield’s estate. The vice president was not named.

In December 2018, 10 months after Satterfield’s death, Lloyd’s of London paid $505,000 into the Satterfield’s estate, and the Palmetto State Bank vice president turned the money over to Fleming, who sent it to his Beaufort law firm, “giving ... Fleming control over the funds,” the charging document said.

In March 2019, after a mediation, Nautilus Insurance Company agreed to pay the Satterfield estate $3.8 million, the charging document said.

Fleming then prepared a fraudulent disbursement statement for Satterfield’s estate, with about $1.4 million going toward attorney’s fees and about $2.7 million going to the estate, the charging document said.

Fleming collected approximately $672,595.85 in attorney’s fees — less than half of the $1.4 million in attorney’s fees he reported to the circuit court, the charging document said.

The disbursement sheet also said $105,000 was for “Prosecution Expenses,” but it really went to Fleming and Murdaugh “for their own personal enrichment,” the charging document said.

Acting under Murdaugh’s direction, Fleming in May 2019 issued a check for nearly $3 million in Nautilus settlement funds to “Forge,” a phony company Murdaugh created with a checking account. Murdaugh deposited the check into his fake Forge account, the charging document said.

In October 2020, at Murdaugh’s direction, Fleming issued another check to “Forge” for $118,000, the charging document said. Fleming also in three separate transactions wrote a total of $26,000 in checks out of the Satterfield settlement funds for himself.

In all, Fleming, acting under Murdaugh’s direction, and Murdaugh took some $4.3 million from money due to the Satterfield estate — money that the Satterfield sons never received, the charging document said.

To get the matter approved by a circuit court judge, Fleming on two occasions in 2019 took two “fake disbursement sheet(s)” showing where the Satterfield estate’s supposedly went, the charging document said.

Judge Carmen Mullen was the judge who approved the phony disbursement sheets submitted by Fleming, according to undisputed news accounts about the case. Mullen has declined comment, and there is no evidence she participated in the scheme.

The embezzlement of Satterfield’s estate was first revealed in the early fall of 2021 in a lawsuit brought by attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, who represented Satterfield’s sons, who alleged Murdaugh and Fleming had schemed to steal the estate’s money.

Fleming had no knowledge of Murdaugh’s numerous other criminal schemes to defraud others, his charging document said.

This is a developing story. It will be updated.