Judge says Murdaugh’s SC island can be sold, 401(k) cashed out to pay lawyers and receivers
State (Columbia, SC)
Alex Murdaugh’s island is being sold.
On Thursday, a state judge temporarily lifted a year-old injunction freezing Murdaugh’s assets and approved the sale of the island belonging to the disgraced attorney.
At the same time, Judge Daniel Hall also approved the liquidation of Murdaugh’s entire 401(k) to help pay legal fees in his pending murder case. The money from the island will become part of Murdaugh’s assets now under control of the court-appointed receivers in the case.
Murdaugh, 54, is charged with murder in the June 2021 shooting deaths of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul. The trial is set to start Jan. 23 in Walterboro, and Murdaugh’s lawyers, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin, had petitioned the court to allow Murdaugh to cash out his 401(k) to pay for expert witnesses and other trial expenses.
Meanwhile, court appointed receivers have been given approval to sell the island, which is in Beaufort County and west of Hunting Island. Approximately $700,000 will be generated from the sale of these assets, with $600,000 from the 401(k) earmarked for Murdaugh’s legal defense, according to court documents.
The injunction was imposed a year ago by Judge Daniel Hall when the plaintiff in a wrongful lawsuit against Murdaugh and others asked the judge to freeze Murdaugh’s assets so he and his surviving son, Buster, could not liquidate them in a possible effort to avoid paying damages.
That lawsuit was filed in March 2019 after a Hampton County woman, Mallory Beach, 19, died in a nighttime boat crash in a Beaufort County waterway. The boat was owned by Murdaugh and piloted by an allegedly drunken Paul, who had illegally bought large amounts of beer earlier in the night
On Thursday, Hall approved a request by the court-appointed receivers Peter McCoy, a former legislator and U.S. attorney, and John Lay, to sell the assets.
The receivers made their motion for the sale of the 401(k) following a request from Murdaugh to free up some of his assets to pay for his defense, according to an October court filing. But filings made regarding the island do not indicate that Murdaugh, who once owned three homes and was known for a lavish lifestyle of hunting trips and private jets, consented to the sale.
The Beach family has sued Alex Murdaugh and Buster as well as Greg Parker, the owner of a convenience store where Paul illegally bought beer before allegedly causing the boat crash that killed Beach in 2019. The civil trial for both defendants is set for Jan. 9. However, the trial date may be rescheduled for later in the year as Murdaugh’s murder trial is set for Jan. 23.
The 22-acre island which is only accessible by boat during certain tides and features a “currently unusable” will sell for an approved price of $285,000.
Hall agreed that $54,119 from the sale of the island will go to paying off a mortgage held by the Palmetto State Bank — the institution owned by the family of Russell Laffitte, a Hampton County banker accused of using his position at the Palmetto State Bank to help Murdaugh steal money from his clients.
The $600,000 from Murdaugh’s 401(k) will be released to him for the “sole purpose” of paying attorneys fees in his upcoming criminal case, according to a court order. The court appointed receivers will hold whatever money remains from the account after after taxes and fees — as well as any left over after his criminal trial — pending the outcome of the civil case.
The receivers estimate that they will receive $300,000 from the liquidation of Murdaugh’s 401(k), according to an October court filing.
On Sept. 20, 2022, receivers McCoy and Lay filed a request with the court asking for permission to sell the island.
In court filings, the receivers state that a buyer had approached Jarred Romero, a real estate broker engaged by Murdaugh and the island’s co-owner. The buyer offered to pay $285,000 for the island “with no conditions,” according to a court filing.
In 2019, Palmetto State Bank appraised the islands worth to be less than the proposed sale value.
The motion to sell the island was followed by a request to the court on Oct. 21 to liquidate Murdaugh’s 401(k) with his consent.
Murdaugh’s approval was necessary to get access to the money in his retirement account. Otherwise the money in the 401(k) was “statutorily protected from the Co-Receiver’s garnishment,” according to the motion filed by McCoy and Lay.
“The Co-Receivers appreciate that unless the 401(k) funds are withdrawn and come within Murdaugh’s control, they are beyond the reach of the Co-Receivers,” an attorney for the receivers wrote in a court filing.
On Nov. 3, an order approving the sale of both assets signed by Hall was filed with the court.
“Island A,” as it’s called in court documents, is one of seven islands that the disbarredHampton county lawyer owns in Beaufort County. It’s part of the Cherry Knoll Hill Islands, also known as the “Williams Islands.”
The island is 50% owned by Murdaugh through Murdaugh Holdings, according to the court filings. The other half is owned by the Estate of Barrett Boulware, a commercial fisherman and alleged drug smuggler, who co-owned the other six islands.
Murdaugh also bought from Boulware the 1,770 acre hunting lodge, known as Moselle, where Murdaugh’s wife and son were killed on the night of June 7, 2021.
Murdaugh has been charged with their murders. He has pleaded not guilty.