Alex Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes detailed without jury present
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On Thursday, there was a showdown over evidence for motive in the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh, accused of killing his wife and son in June 2021.
The defense and prosecution battled over whether the jury will hear evidence related to Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes.
When Murdaugh’s defense attorney Jim Griffin asked Paul Murdaugh’s friend Will Loving under cross-examination Wednesday if he could think of any reason why Alex would kill his wife and son, he was attempting to use a character argument to discount the charges against the disbarred Lowcountry lawyer, according to presiding Judge Clifton Newman.
Newman explained Thursday that when Griffin brought up the character of his client, lead prosecutor Creighton Waters was permitted to launch into a series of questions about Alex’s alleged financial crimes in front of the jury.
The defense objected Wednesday, but Newman overruled that objection.
Newman said it is up to the prosecution and defense about how to proceed, or else he will intervene.
Prior to that moment, the jury has heard nothing about the financial crimes, except in opening statements when Watters described a “gathering storm” of legal problems, including alleged financial misdeeds that Alex was facing on the night of June 7, 2021, as a possible motive for murder.
To discuss whether financial crimes would be allowed as evidence for a motive in Murdaugh’s murder trial, Newman ordered the jury out of the courtroom and began a separate hearing without the jury present, centering on those alleged misdeeds.
Jeannie Seckinger first took the stand during this hearing. She is the accountant, bookkeeper, and CFO at the law firm that once bore the Murdaugh family name, PMPED.
Seckinger said she has known Alex for 40 years, and had worked with him for 20 years at the firm.
She did not mince words in her testimony, saying that Alex stole and misappropriated millions of dollars in funds.
She testified in great detail how Alex managed to steal nearly three million dollars in six years from clients, in an elaborate scheme from 2015 to 2021.
According to Seckinger, money received from lawsuits in which Murdaugh was a lawyer was supposed to go into a settlement fund or directly to PMPED to be disbursed.
“All fees earned go to the firm,” she testified. “If you keep the money, it’s stealing.”
However, in case after case, Seckinger described how money awarded to Murdaugh’s clients never went to those clients.
Instead, she said it went directly into a shell account at Bank of America that Murdaugh set up, called R. Alexander Murdaugh DBA Forge.
Forge Consulting LLC is a legitimate settlement firm. In court Thursday, prosecutors termed Alex’s shell company as a “fake Forge.”
Waters ran through a laundry list of incidents where Murdaugh allegedly stole money, and diverted funds.
“So the rest of that money went to the client, didn’t it?” Waters asked.
“It did not, it actually went to the fake Forge account where Alex stole the money from the client,” Seckinger said.
“Every last bit of it?” Waters asked.
“Every bit, the $152,866,” Seckinger said.
“That client didn’t get one dime until y’all had to make it right?” Waters asked.
“That’s right,” she replied.
“And that’s similar to the rest of the examples we have?” Waters asked.
“That’s exactly like the rest,” Seckinger said.
“Been going on for years?” Waters asked.
“Yes,” Seckinger said.
The prosecution alleges that Alex murdered Maggie and Paul because was trying to buy time, diverting scrutiny from these schemes by making it appear that he and his family were being victimized.
An event the day of the murders is a key component in the prosecution’s effort to prove a motive.
During a meeting at PMPED that afternoon, Seckinger testified that she pressed Alex about $792,000 in missing fees that she had uncovered and was demanding an explanation.
She said as she walked into Murdaugh’s office, he seemed distressed and asked, “What do you need now?”
During the conversation, she testified that Alex took a phone call, notifying him his father Randolph was being hospitalized, and his condition was grave.
She testified this was her last conversation with Alex before the murders.
Prosecutors also pointed out that Alex was a party in a lawsuit involving the death of Mallory Beach.
On June 10, 2021, three days after the murders, a hearing where Murdaugh would have to disclose all of his accounts was looming.
All of these factors played into a possible motive, the state argues.
The hearing in the boat case was canceled, and Seckinger testified that Alex’s firm dropped the issue of the missing money temporarily, as everyone at the firm was justifiably concerned.
“Alex was distraught and upset and not in the office much and nobody wanted to harass him about nothing that we thought was really missing,” she said. “We had several months until the end of the year to clear it up so we were not going to harass him at that point in time.”
The defense argued that this testimony is not relevant to the facts of the case, and could cause unnecessary in the trial.
“As [Waters] just described all the financial misdeeds or crimes that he wants to prove up, we’re going to be here until the end of February I suspect, or March because that’s adding two weeks to this trial,” Griffin said.
Newman appeared receptive to allowing at least some of the financial evidence to be admitted before the jury, without the needless presentation of evidence twice.
However, no final determination was made.
It raises concerns about how deep and how wide this trial could extend.
Alex faces 99 charges and 19 indictments related to financial crimes. If convicted of those crimes, he could spend the rest of his life in prison, regardless of the outcome of his murder trial.
Other members of Alex’s financial orbit also appeared on the witness stand without the jury present, including longtime Murdaugh friend Chris Wilson, and Michael Gunn of the legitimate settlement firm, Forge Consulting LLC.
During one exchange with Gunn, Waters produced a stack of checks that Alex deposited into his shell account as evidence.
Waters rattled off approximately 10 stolen checks, asking Gunn if they were legitimate.
When each number was read, Gunn said, “No sir.”
Before the jury, Dylan Hightower, an investigator with the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, testified that he compared Alex’s phone records with Verizon’s.
On the day of the murders, Alex’s phone records showed two FaceTime calls.
Verizon records show 73 phone calls.
Hightower indicated that those calls were likely deleted from Alex’s phone and that there is no way to delete the Verizon records.
The Alex Murdaugh murder trial is entering day nine Thursday. The court resumed at 9:30 a.m.
The court heard details about Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes. This was done without the jury present. Jeannie Seckinger, the CFO of Alex’s former law firm PMPED testified. She spoke about improperly structured fees from May of 2021.
Testimony also included an alleged theft of roughly $3 million from his clients over a period of six years.
Seckinger outlining Alex’s alleged financial crimes *without jury present.— Nick Neville (@NickNeville_) February 2, 2023
On day of murders, he’s confronted about $792k missing fees.
Alex resigned from law firm on 9/3/21 after confronted about millions in misappropriated funds.
The next day, Alex reports being shot. @wis10
Day 9 of the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial:— Nick Neville (@NickNeville_) February 2, 2023
Judge Newman explains why he overruled defense’s objection & allowed the state to ask Will Loving about alleged financial crimes.
He says defense opened the door for those questions by using Loving as character witness.
📸: POOL pic.twitter.com/MESdcNWS7e
WIS’ Nick Neville has a recap of what happened on day eight.
Update from day 8 of the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial: two family friends testified with 100 percent certainty that Alex’s voice can be heard at the kennels minutes before killings in video taken by Paul.— Nick Neville (@NickNeville_) February 2, 2023
Alex said he was never there. @wis10
MORE: https://t.co/pwZhtZLaFI pic.twitter.com/Aokih5Dmlw
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