Ex-lawyer Cory Fleming sentenced to prison, restitution following guilty plea
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A judge handed down a sentence to a former Lowcountry attorney who pleaded guilty in May after being accused of conspiring with Alex Murdaugh to take money from the estate of Murdaugh’s former housekeeper.
Cory Fleming was sentenced in federal court Tuesday to 46 months, nearly four years in prison. A judge also sentenced him to pay $102,000 in restitution and a fine of $20,000. He will also be under three years of supervised release after he serves his time. Fleming was taken into custody at the end of the hearing to begin his 46-month sentence.
Fleming pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit fraud. The charges stem from accusations that he helped Murdaugh take money from two of his law firm clients. The victims are the Satterfield and Pinckney families.
In the courtroom, Fleming was surrounded by his family, and he tearfully addressed the room. Fleming apologized to each victim by name and in turn, the victims took their time to forgive Fleming during an emotional afternoon.
“I just pray that you know God give Cory Fleming the strength to get through what he got to go through just as well as me and my family, God give us strength to go through what we got to go through,” Pamela Pinckney said.
Five friends spoke on Fleming’s behalf. His family did not, but his son did emotionally embrace his father after Fleming finished speaking his piece.
During the hearing, head prosecutor Emily Limehouse and Judge Richard Gergel pointed out how Fleming acted very differently from a fellow alleged Murdaugh conspirator, Russell Laffitte, who was sentenced in the same building two weeks ago for similar crimes. Laffitte went to trial, arguing the entire time that he was a victim of Murduagh as well, and maintains his innocence. Laffite was found guilty at trial and sentenced to seven years in prison.
“If every single person acted like Russell Laffitte, we simply would not have the resources to hold individuals accountable. Someone like Cory Fleming comes in and takes full responsibility and cooperates with us. It promotes respect to law and our efficient administration of justice, and we believe they deserve some recognition for that cooperation,” Limehouse said.
Despite the lesser crime, cooperation and sentence under the maximum for the crime, Judge Gergel emphasized the severity of the crimes and hopes the sentence deters other lawyers in a similar position from ever taking advantage of vulnerable clients.
Gloria Satterfield was Murdaugh’s former housekeeper who died in what was described as a trip-and-fall accident at Murdaugh’s home.
Murdaugh recommended the family of Satterfield hire Fleming to represent them and file a claim against Murdaugh’s homeowner’s insurance policies, prosecutors said. The estate’s claims were settled by Murdaugh’s insurance companies for $505,000 and $3.8 million.
Fleming allegedly transferred money out of the Nautilus settlement fund to himself and to Murdaugh.
Fleming also represented the Pinckney family, another client sent to him by Murdaugh, in a lawsuit after a car crash. Fleming admitted to misappropriating more than $300,000 of the settlement money to pay his part of a private plane to the 2012 College World Series.
He faced a maximum penalty of five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. In exchange for Fleming’s cooperation, federal prosecutors recommended he serve any convicted jail time in federal prison instead of state and that any future state convictions be served at the same time as his federal sentence.
Attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, who represent the Satterfield families, both commented on Tuesday’s sentencing beforehand. Bland said he has “mixed feelings” about Fleming’s sentencing.
“On the one hand, I am happy that a lawyer, who put himself over the needs of his clients and betrayed their trust is held accountable. On the other hand, I am sad because Corey Flemming’s actions stained our profession and caused lasting damage,” he said. “But in the end, justice was done and our system worked. Attorneys like Mr. Fleming will continue to pay the price for their criminal acts. Rule of law inevitably will win. Can’t out run it forever.”
“Hate the sin and not the sinner,” Richter said. “I don’t hate Cory Fleming – but I sure don’t like what he did to the Satterfields. Crime always runs ahead of justice, but crime is a sprinter and justice is built for the long run.”
Fleming is facing state charges of breach of trust, money laundering, computer crimes and conspiracy at the state level and has a trial date for Sept. 11.
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