Alex Murdaugh’s former law firm partner has recalled how he gave her a “dirty look” when she confronted him over missing payments worth a staggering $792,000 on the day that his wife and son were murdered.
Jeanne Seckinger, the chief financial officer at Mr Murdaugh’s former law firm PMPED, testified in Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina, on Thursday at his trial for the murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul.
She told the court how she discovered the 54-year-old now-disbarred attorney was misappropriating millions of dollars from his legal clients – by moving money into a fake business and into his own personal accounts.
Ms Seckinger said that she had confronted Mr Murdaugh about thousands of dollars of missing funds on the morning of 7 June 2021.
Hours later, Maggie and Paul were shot dead at the Murdaugh family estate in Islandton.
Ms Seckinger’s testimony was given in the absence of the jury as the judge weighs what evidence about Mr Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes are admissible in court at his murder trial.
Separate from his murder trial, Mr Murdaugh is also currently facing a slew of around 100 charges from multiple indictments for embezzling millions of dollars from clients at PMPED.
In total, he is accused of stealing almost $8.5m from clients in fraud schemes dating back around a decade to 2011.
The attorney, who has since been disbarred, represented the clients in wrongful death lawsuits before allegedly pocketing the settlement money for himself.
Prosecutors are arguing that Mr Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes are key to proving the motive in his murder case, claiming that he killed Maggie and Paul to hide his other crimes and scandals.
Not only had his law firm begun unravelling his alleged multi-million-dollar fraud scheme but his finances were coming under intense scrutiny in a lawsuit brought by the family of Mallory Beach.
Beach, 19, died in a 2019 crash in the Murdaugh family boat.
Paul was allegedly drunk driving the boat at the time and crashed it, throwing Beach overboard. Her body washed ashore a week later. Paul was charged with multiple felonies over the boat wreck and was facing 25 years in prison at the time of his murder.
A hearing for the boat crash lawsuit was also scheduled for the week of the murders. It was postponed following Maggie and Paul’s murders.
The defence is asking the judge to throw evidence of Mr Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes out of the murder trial.
Judge Newman said he would hear the testimony in a private hearing to determine what evidence – if any – would be allowed. Later in the day, the court also heard testimony from two other financial crime witnesses, again without the jury. More are expected on Friday morning, with the jury asked to be present two hours later than usual.
During Ms Seckinger’s testimony, she told the court that she had known Mr Murdaugh for around 40 years and had worked with him for around two decades.
She said that she first had a conversation with Mr Murdaugh about the alleged misappropriation of funds in late May 2021 when she noticed that he was trying to structure legal fees that he had received from a case.
At the time, she said she was “concerned” but did not believe he was “stealing” – just “hiding” – the money.
When she asked him about the money, she said he told her he was “trying to put some money in Maggie’s name” to shield it from the boat crash lawsuit.
Ms Seckinger told the court that she “wasn’t thinking about him misappropriating funds but [that he] was trying to defer the income and put the money in a structure and in Maggie’s name because of the boat case”.
However, she said she and the other law firm partners were “concerned”, saying “that would be wrong, and we did not want any part of that”.
But by 7 June 2021, the law firm partners had noticed $792,000 worth of legal fees missing from a case that Mr Murdaugh had worked with attorney – and friend – Chris Wilson.
That morning, Ms Seckinger said that she went upstairs to Mr Murdaugh’s office at PMPED and found him leaning on a filing cabinet.
“He turned and he looked at me and said ‘what do you need now?’” she said.
Ms Seckinger recalled Mr Murdaugh giving her a “dirty look”, something that she said she had “ever received from him before”.
She said she told him she “had reason to believe he had received the funds himself and I needed proof that he didn’t”.
Mr Murdaugh assured her that the “money was there and that he could get it”, she said.
During their conversation, she said Mr Murdaugh got a phone call telling him that his sick father Randy’s condition was terminal and they stopped talking about the money and “instead got talking as friends” about his family. Randy died three days after Maggie and Paul on 10 June 2021.
At around 4pm on 7 June, Ms Seckinger said Mr Murdaugh then called her asking for information about his pension because he said he was working on his finances ahead of the upcoming boat crash case hearing.
Less than five hours later, prosecutors say Mr Murdaugh shot dead Maggie and Paul at around 8.50pm at the dog kennels on the family estate.
Ms Seckinger told the court she heard about Maggie and Paul’s murders first “through the rumour mill” and then in a text from another PMPED partner.
She described her reaction as shocked, scared and “worried for everyone especially for Alex”.
Their brutal murders put a hold on the law firm’s investigation into the missing funds.
Over the coming months, the law firm partners uncovered an alleged multi-million-dollar fraud scheme where he had stolen millions from their clients and pocketed it himself.
The probe reached a head on 3 September 2021 when the PMPED partners had discovered checks showing funds were being sent to a fake business called Forge Consulting and to Mr Murdaugh’s personal accounts, she said.
The partners met with him that day, he “confessed” to the financial fraud and he was forced to resign.
The scandal was not publicly announced with the law firm partners planning to wait until Monday to make the announcement she said.
Then, in a dramatic twist, the following day on 4 September, Mr Murdaugh was shot on the side of a road in Hampton County.
He survived and called 911, claiming he was ambushed in a drive-by shooting while he was changing a tyre on his vehicle.
Ms Seckinger testified that she was in “fear” when she first heard about the shooting, saying “no one knew what to think”.
But, the disgraced attorney’s story quickly unravelled and he confessed to police that he had orchestrated the botched hitman plot so that his surviving son Buster could get a $1m life insurance windfall. Mr Murdaugh and his alleged co-conspirator Curtis Smith – who he paid to shoot him – are also facing charges over that incident.
Since then, Ms Seckinger told the court that the law firm has learned Mr Murdaugh stole millions of dollars from clients since 2011.
The court heard several individual cases of money being stolen, where the prosecutor said “not one dime” had gone to intended clients including one payment for $152,866.
“It actually went to the fake Forge account where Alex stole the money from the client,” she said about that particular case, adding that this was “exactly like the rest”.
As part of the scheme, some of the payments went through Palmetto State Bank and its former CEO Russell Laffitte.
Mr Laffitte would act as a conservator and direct the money to the bank as though to hold them for the beneficiary, she explained.
Instead, “those checks were later converted into personal use for Alex”.
Mr Laffitte – the brother-in-law of Ms Seckinger – was convicted of financial fraud charges in November 2022 connection to Mr Murdaugh’s alleged white collar fraud schemes.
Mr Murdaugh, 54, is facing life in prison for the murders of his wife and son.
Prosecutors claim he shot dead his family members in an attempt to distract from a string of other scandals and crimes encircling him. He denies the allegations, insisting that their killer or killers is still at large.
As well as then financial crimes, Mr Murdaugh was also in the grips of a 20-year opioid addiction.
Now, questions are also mounting over a series of mystery deaths connected to the Murdaughs.
In 2018, Gloria Satterfield, the Murdaugh’s longtime housekeeper, died in a mysterious trip and fall accident at the family home.
At the time, her death was regarded as an accidental fall – though an investigation was reopened after Maggie and Paul’s murders. The Satterfield family was among the victims of Mr Murdaugh’s fraud scheme.
An investigation was also reopened into the 2015 death of Stephen Smith, who was found dead in the middle of the road in Hampton County, South Carolina.
The openly gay teenager, 19, had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and his death was officially ruled a hit-and-run. But the victim’s family have long doubted this version of events, with the Murdaugh name cropping up in several police tips and community rumours.