Alex Murdaugh’s best friend of 40 years breaks down in tears as he describes learning he stole $192k from him
Alex Murdaugh’s former best friend of 40 years broke down in tears in court as he described the moment that he learned the disgraced attorney had stolen millions of dollars from his law firm clients – and $192,000 from himself.
Chris Wilson choked up with emotion as he said the betrayal “knocked me down” and revealed that “I don’t know how to think any more” about the man he had known and “loved” for most of his life.
“I was so mad. I had loved the guy for so long, and I probably still loved him a little bit, but I was so mad, and I don’t remember how it ended,” he said of Mr Murdaugh.
Mr Wilson’s emotional testimony came on Thursday in Colleton County Courthouse in South Carolina where Mr Murdaugh is on trial for the murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul.
Maggie and Paul were brutally shot dead at the dog kennels of the Murdaugh family estate on 7 June 2021.
Prosecutors claim that Mr Murdaugh murdered his wife and son in an attempt to distract from his financial crimes which were catching up with him.
At the time of the murders, Mr Murdaugh’s law firm PMPED was closing in on his alleged multi-million-dollar fraud scheme, with a colleague confronting him about it on the morning of the killings.
His finances were also coming under intense scrutiny in a lawsuit brought by the family of Mallory Beach – a 19-year-old woman who 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.
Now, separate from his murder trial, Mr Murdaugh is 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.
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 testimony about the alleged financial crimes in the absence of the jury to determine what evidence – if any – will be allowed.
Mr Wilson, also an attorney, told the court that he and Mr Murdaugh first met in high school but became close when they went to the same law school and lived together.
“He was one of my best friends, I thought he was, and I thought he felt the same way about me,” he testified, his voice cracking.
When prosecutor Creighton Waters asked if he felt that way now, he replied: “I don’t know how I feel now.”
The two men had a close professional relationship, with Mr Wilson telling the court about one particular personal injury case they worked on together in January 2021.
In total, the clients won $5.5m from two verdicts in the case, with Mr Murdaugh’s firm making a $792,000 cut.
Mr Wilson testified how his friend asked him to make the $792,000 check payable directly to him instead of PMPED so that he could structure them through an annuity.
Mr Murdaugh told him that his law firm had already agreed to this happening, he said.
Because he “trusted” his friend, Mr Wilson testified that it didn’t raise any suspicions.
“It was different, but it didn’t raise any red flags or suspicions that something was going on,” he said.
Mr Wilson broke down wiping his eyes with tears as he quietly confirmed that he had spoken with Mr Murdaugh and was among the friends and family members who had rallied round at the Murdaugh home in the aftermath of the murders of Maggie and Paul.
“Everyone was destroyed,” he said, adding that “no one was focusing on” any financial matters at that time.
However, in July 2021 – one month on from the murders – Mr Wilson said that his friend got in touch saying he had been unable to structure the fees as planned and needed to pay the money back and have it paid directly to PMPED.
At that time, PMPED had discovered that the $792,000 was missing and had asked Mr Murdaugh about it.
Mr Murdaugh only had $600,000 to pay it back, with Mr Wilson saying that he covered the additional $192,000, on the basis that Mr Murdaugh would pay him back.
One month later, he said he still hadn’t received the money but did not want to push the issue because he was worried about his friend.
“I didn’t want to push him,” he said.
Mr Wilson became emotional as he said he grew increasingly concerned that Mr Murdaugh might kill himself.
“I was concerned just like everybody else, everyone in his firm, everyone in his family, that he was going to do something to himself. That he was going to kill himself,” he said.
He had Mr Murdaugh sign a handwritten note pledging to pay him the money back so that he would be able to make a claim against his estate if he died.
On 3 September 2021 – three months on from the murders – Mr Wilson said he finally learned his friend had been scamming him and many other people.
That day, the PMPED partners had discovered Mr Murdaugh was pocketing clients’ money and he allegedly admitted to the fraud scheme and was forced to resign.
The scandal was not publicly announced that day but the PMPED partners got in touch with Mr Wilson and informed him what they knew.
“It knocked me down... I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
Mr Wilson testified that he met Mr Murdaugh the following day on 4 September 2021 and confronted him about his fraud scheme.
He said he asked Mr Murdaugh if there was anything else that he should know about.
Choking back tears, Mr Wilson revealed that his longtime friend broke down and confessed to stealing the money to fund a secret 20-year opioid addiction.
“He broke down crying,” he said.
“I was so mad. I had loved the guy for so long, and I probably still loved him a little bit, but I was so mad, and I don’t remember how it ended. How did I not know these things or see these things?”
When asked how Mr Murdaugh confessed to him, he said: “He said he ‘s*** me up’... he said he had ‘s*** a lot of people up.’”
Then, in yet another dramatic twist, just hours later 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.
Mr Wilson described his shock on hearing the news: “What the devil is going on? I thought he tried to kill himself.”
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.
Mr Wilson testified that he hadn’t spoken to Mr Murdaugh since the morning of the shooting.
Mr Murdaugh had sent him text messages and a letter.
One of the texts was read in court: “So sorry for the havoc I created. I’d do anything to make it right.”
Mr Wilson told the court that he responded with a simple platitude to the text and gave the letter to his lawyer.
During Thursday’s shadow trial, the court also heard testimony from Jeanne Seckinger, the chief financial officer at Mr Murdaugh’s former law firm PMPED who revealed she had confronted Mr Murdaugh over the missing $792,000 payments on the day of Maggie and Paul’s murders.
She told the court that she first had a conversation with Mr Murdaugh about the missing 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, saying he told her he was “trying to put some money in Maggie’s name” to shield it from the boat crash lawsuit.
But by 7 June 2021, the law firm partners had noticed $792,000 worth of legal fees missing from the case he worked with Mr Wilson.
When she approached Mr Murdaugh to ask him about it she said he gave 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.
Their brutal murders put a hold on the law firm’s investigation into the missing funds.
Then, 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 – reaching a head with the confrontation and resignation on 3 September.
As part of the scheme, Mr Murdaugh was allegedly sending checks to a fake account under the name of Forge Consulting and to Mr Murdaugh’s personal accounts.
Forge Consulting is a real business which had no part in the scheme. It is now suing Mr Murdaugh for reputational damage.
Forge Consulting‘s Michael Gunn testified how he learned that Mr Murdaugh was impersonating his company to pocket the money.
Some swindled payments also 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.
Much of Thursday’s court proceedings took place as a shadow trial while the judge heard testimony on financial crimes evidence.
During a rare moment where the jury was seated, Dylan Hightower – an investigator with the 14th Circuit Solictor’s office – testified how he tracked down Maggie’s phone on 8 June, the day after the murders.
Maggie’s phone was found using Find my iPhone dumped by the side of Moselle Road around a quarter of a mile from the Murdaugh property.
Jurors were shown photos of the phone lying in the shrubbery around 15 to 20 feet from the edge of the road.
Under cross examination, Mr Hightower was asked if he thought it would be hard to throw a phone from a driver’s window across the roadway so it landed there.
Mr Hightower testified that it would not be difficult to do as it could simply be flung horizontally.
SLED Lt. Britt Dove, who analysed the cellphones of Paul, Maggie and Mr Murdaugh, previously testified on Wednesday that her phone was locked from 8.49pm and the final orientation change on the phone – movement – took place at 9.06pm on 7 June 2021.
The defence is seeking to cast doubt on the theory that it was Mr Murdaugh who threw Maggie’s phone there because there was no orientation change on Maggie’s cellphone after 9.06pm and at that time Mr Murdaugh’s phone was tracking steps near the home.
However, the SLED agent testified that if the screen on the phone was off, it would not show an orientation change.
Mr Hightower also testified on Thursday to what he found when he downloaded the contents of Mr Murdaugh’s phone three days after the murders.
On that date – 10 June – he said there was only two FaceTime calls in Mr Murdaugh’s call log for the date of the murders. His Verizon records showed 73 calls on that date.
Previous testimony revealed that by September, all call logs from 7 June had been deleted.
Lt Dove testified that this could only be done manually and intentionally by someone on the phone.
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 the 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.