Alex Murdaugh’s former law school classmate Cory Fleming sentenced to nearly 4 years in prison for helping him steal

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Published: Aug. 15, 2023 at 10:20 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WIS) - Alex Murdaugh’s former law school classmate Cory Fleming will spend nearly four years in prison for his role in the theft of millions of dollars from the family of Murdaugh’s longtime housekeeper.

Judge Richard Gergel sentenced Fleming for his role in the scheme on Tuesday at Charleston’s federal courthouse.

In handing down his sentence before a capacity courtroom, Gergel said that Fleming’s actions were “egregious and ugly.”

Though he acknowledged that Fleming, 54, seems genuinely remorseful about his actions, Gergel said it was important to send a message to the public that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated.

It was a day of accountability in the saga of Murdaugh, the once-head of a powerful Lowcountry family who was convicted by a Colleton County jury of murdering his wife and son in March.

“We believe that today was the right product of a system of justice,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Limehouse said after the hearing.

Fleming pleaded guilty in May to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

He was sentenced on Tuesday to 46 months in federal prison and was immediately taken into custody by U.S. Marshals.

In addition to prison time, Fleming was ordered to pay $102,000 in restitution to his victims, and a $20,000 fine.

$4.3 million in insurance settlement money was meant to go to the Satterfield sons after their mother Gloria died in a slip-and-fall accident at the Murdaugh family estate in 2018.

However, they saw none of the money as Murdaugh convinced the Satterfields to hire Fleming to sue him and submit a claim against his homeowner’s insurance policy.

Fleming went along with Murdaugh’s scheme to divert the funds to himself.

Satterfield attorney Eric Bland characterized Gergel’s decision as a “very, very strong sentence from a very compassionate judge.”

Bland, along with his law partner Ronnie Richter who also represents the Satterfield family, emphasized the need for general deterrence in this case.

“It’s exceptionally rare that a lawyer takes money from a client,” he said. “But Judge Gergel got it right that when it happens, it’s very important to restore the public trust by punishing that crime seriously and that’s what happened today.”

Prior to sentencing, Bland laid out in detail each of the steps that Fleming took to aid Murdaugh in his theft.

“As members of the bar, we need to make sure that when we represent clients that we only represent them, that we don’t try to advance our own interests or anybody else’s interests,” he told reporters after the hearing. “We owe 100 percent fidelity to our clients. The lawsuits belong to the client. They’re not a vehicle for lawyers to enrich themselves.”

Gergel said that Fleming was no victim of Murdaugh’s.

“He willingly joined his team,” he said.

But his actions in this case, while serious, are inconsistent with the rest of his life, Gergel said.

Dozens of letters were submitted to the court on Fleming’s behalf, detailing what a caring husband, father, and friend he is.

As Fleming’s attorney Debbie Barbier argued that Fleming should receive a sentence lower than 46 months due to his contrition and cooperation with investigators, she added that many in the Beaufort County community wanted to be present at Fleming’s sentencing hearing to show their support.

“I don’t think anybody is in Beaufort today,” Gergel replied.

Justin Bamberg, who represents Pamela Pinckney, another one of Fleming’s victims, said that the ex-attorney displayed a pattern of criminal behavior that should not be overlooked.

“It doesn’t matter how much good he did,” he said. “At the end of the day, he breached his ultimate oath and duty as a lawyer, and I hope other attorneys are watching this.”

Fleming acknowledged stealing from Pinckney’s family, nearly a decade before he victimized the Satterfield family.

Prior to his sentencing, Fleming addressed the court, and tearfully apologized to his victims, who have said they forgive him.

He also apologized to the South Carolina Bar for how his actions have negatively impacted his former profession.

Fleming surrendered his license to practice law in South Carolina and Georgia and said on Tuesday that he “no longer deserves the privilege” of being a lawyer.

Addressing his family, he said he will spend the rest of his life regretting the shame he has inflected on them.

Fleming is the second individual wrapped up in the Murdaugh schemes of theft to face prison time.

Russell Laffitte, the former CEO of Palmetto State Bank, was sentenced to 7 years in prison earlier this month for helping Murdaugh steal millions from clients and his law firm.

By taking accountability for his actions, Limehouse told Gergel that Fleming’s behavior during this case “could not be more different than Russell Laffitte’s.”

“We think cooperation is vital to the official administration of justice,” she said. “There’s only so many of us. We only have so many government resources to investigate and prosecute cases. And if every single person acted like Russell Laffitte, we simply would not have the resources to hold individuals accountable.”

Due to Fleming’s cooperation, the government sought the lower end of the sentencing guidelines.

“Our hope is that through Mr. Fleming’s example, others who are otherwise upstanding members of society will take this example and say no when presented with these same opportunities to steal money from others.”

Fleming faces more than 20 state charges in connection with the thefts as well. That case is set to go to trial on September 11 in Beaufort County.

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