Alex Murdaugh, alleged hitman Smith indicted on money laundering, drug trafficking charges
Star, The (North Augusta, SC)
COLUMBIA - The state grand jury has indicted disgraced Hampton County attorney Alex Murdaugh and an alleged accomplice on myriad money laundering and drug trafficking charges in connection with a years-long scheme to move mounds of ill-gotten cash and drugs.
Curtis Edward Smith, 61, who was previously charged with shooting Murdaugh in September during a botched assisted-suicide scheme, becomes the third Murdaugh associate to face charges from the powerful investigative panel.
Smith joins prominent Hampton County banker Russell Laffitte and suspended Beaufort County attorney Cory Fleming - both accused of helping Murdaugh steal millions of dollars from settlements owed to his law clients and others who trusted him.
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The grand jury's June 23 indictment, unsealed June 28, alleges Smith laundered more than $2.4 million for Murdaugh from October 2013 to February 2021 - a period in which Murdaugh is accused of pilfering piles of money from his law clients and legal partners.
Murdaugh wrote Smith at least 437 checks, almost all of them for less than $10,000 to avoid scrutiny from banks and the federal government, charging documents allege. Smith used much of that money to purchase narcotics, investigators said in the 15-page filing. But a "substantial" portion was converted to cash that remains unaccounted for, state grand jury prosecutor Creighton Waters said in court June 28.
Smith, a disabled logger whose curly blond hair reaches nearly to his shoulders, hobbled into the Richland County courtroom in chains. He denied selling drugs. A former law client and distant relative of Murdaugh's, Smith told state Judge Clifton Newman he was "pulled into it - not by choice."
"I look forward to clearing my name," he said in a gravelly voice.
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Newman set a $250,000 surety bond for Smith, citing the severity of the charges against him. The bond requires Smith to post a portion of that amount in order to be released from jail while awaiting trial - and forfeit that money if he fails to appear in court. His defense attorney, Jarrett Bouchette, told reporters he isn't sure Smith can afford it.
Bouchette otherwise declined to comment on Smith's case.
"For the time being, we're just going to have to wait and let more facts come out," he said. "As we've seen over the last year or so, things have changed over time that (weren't) what they initially appeared to be."
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Smith's alleged co-conspirator, Murdaugh, has been stuck in the Richland County jail since mid-October, unable to afford his own $7 million bond.
The case has proven a stunning fall from grace for Murdaugh, the scion of a powerful family of Hampton County lawyers that simultaneously ran the local prosecutor's office and a high-powered law firm in Hampton for most of the past century.
Civil lawsuits and dozens of criminal charges accuse Murdaugh of leveraging fraudulent bank accounts and well-placed accomplices to steal more than $8.5 million over the past decade. Murdaugh also remains the only known person of interest in the state investigation into the unsolved double murder of his wife, Maggie, and son Paul outside the family's Colleton County hunting lodge in June 2021.
Murdaugh defense attorney Dick Harpootlian declined to comment June 28 on the new indictment.
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Waters asked Newman to set Smith's bond at $350,000. He cited Smith's years-long dealings with Murdaugh.
"His involvement in this conspiracy is extensive, and it is longstanding," Waters said.
Murdaugh's defense attorneys have previously said Smith was their client's personal drug dealer, supplying him opioids that fueled a secret addiction spanning two decades. Smith's attorneys have disputed that characterization.
Smith was previously arrested in September and then indicted by a county grand jury in November for his role as the alleged hitman in a life insurance scheme Murdaugh concocted over Labor Day weekend. The plot came in the days after Murdaugh's former law firm discovered he had stolen millions of dollars from his law partners and legal clients. He was forced to resign.
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Murdaugh called 911 over Labor Day weekend and initially claimed he was shot in the head by a passing motorist while inspecting a flat tire on the side of a rural Hampton County road.
Later, he changed his story and said he had Smith shoot him in the head so he could leave behind a $10 million insurance policy for his remaining son, Buster.
Smith and his lawyer have denied that version of events. Smith said he refused Murdaugh's request and tried to prevent Murdaugh from killing himself. The gun went off as they wrestled for control of it, Smith said.
The state Supreme Court revoked Murdaugh's law license last week, citing his pattern of dishonesty, theft and misconduct. He faces decades in prison.