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South Carolina man with financial ties to Murdaugh jailed on new indictment

Jerry Rivers of Walterboro was previously accused of obstructing state authorities as they pursued Alex Murdaugh’s money trail.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) — A co-defendant of disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh faces new charges of defrauding a federal program created to help businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to jail records.

Jerry Rivers was quietly booked Jan. 17 into the Richland County jail on the eve of his alleged co-conspirator’s double murder trial for the slayings of his wife and son.

Rivers, 40, is jailed on a 13-count indictment alleging he defraud the Paycheck Protection Program using a fictitious beauty salon while separately collecting unemployment as an out-of-work dry wall finisher, according to the indictments.

The Walterboro man received more than $41,000 in the spring of 2021 from the federal program, which was created to help businesses retain employees during the Covid-19 pandemic, the indictments allege. He earned tens of thousands of dollars more from filing phony unemployment claims with the state claiming he lost the construction work because of the pandemic.

Rivers is also accused of filing for unemployment insurance benefits on behalf of two women without their knowledge.

Rivers faces charges of computer crimes, obtaining property by false pretenses, identity theft and money laundering.

It was not clear if a detention hearing has already been held for Rivers. His defense attorney, Rose Mary Parham, did not respond to requests for comment. Robert Kittle, a spokesman for the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, said his office would not comment on the active investigation.

Rivers was previously arrested on allegations he obstructed state authorities as they pursued Murdaugh’s money trail.

Agents from the State Law Enforcement Division, or SLED, executed search warrants Aug. 10 at various locations in Walterboro tied to Rivers' associate, Spencer Anwan Roberts, state prosecutor Creighton Waters said at a bail hearing.

While agents searched a gambling house, Rivers allegedly left the scene with Roberts’ cellphone, which had been plugged into an outlet, Waters told Judge Clifton Newman.

Agents told Rivers the next day to return the phone, according to the prosecutor. Rivers left a cellphone in a mailbox for authorities, but it was not the stolen one.

Waters said Rivers and Roberts were “downstream” beneficiaries of more than $8 million dollars Murdaugh admitted to stealing from former clients of his family’s law firm before the murders on June 7, 2021, at the family's hunting estate.

In 2021 alone, Murdaugh wrote almost $90,000 in checks to Rivers, the prosecutor said.

The unemployed father of five was granted a $150,000 bond on the obstruction charge. It’s not clear from public records if he was able to post that bail before his most recent arrest.

Roberts, 34, was indicted in August on allegations similar to Rivers. In that case, Roberts collected thousands of dollars from the Paycheck Protection Program to keep a phony insurance agency afloat while separating claiming to be an unemployed car wash employee, according to the indictment.

Murdaugh, 54, was convicted last week of two counts of murder after a jury trial that began Jan. 23 in Colleton County. Newman sentenced him to two consecutive terms of life in prison for the killings of his wife, Maggie, and son Paul.

A SLED special agent testified at Murdaugh’s trial that investigators discovered what appeared to be a sales ledger in the Walterboro home of the ex-attorney’s alleged drug dealer, Curtis “Fast Eddie” Smith. Financial records discovered at the home showed Murdaugh funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into Smith’s bank account before and after the murders.

Murdaugh claimed he was paying $50,000 a week to buy drugs from Smith, who was purchasing them from members of the Sand Hill drug ring, a precursor to the Walterboro Cowboys street gang, another agent testified.

In 2012, Rivers was one of 16 defendants indicted by federal prosecutors in a cocaine trafficking bust in Walterboro.

The investigation began after several informants identified Ivory Brothers as “one of the major dealers of crack cocaine” in the city of Walterboro. Federal and local authorities learned through an investigation that Brothers was purchasing kilograms of high-quality cocaine from Martin Ballard, of Summerville, and cooking it into crack.

Brothers cooperated with federal investigators in the case against his supplier. After his arrest, Ballard hired a gunman to kill Brothers.

Brothers was shot repeatedly on June 6, 2013, at a house in Walterboro, but he survived the assassination attempt. The shooter, Jimmie Harris, was eventually arrested and authorities charged Ballard with attempting to murder a federal witness.

Ballard was sentenced three years later to life in prison. Harris received a 45-year sentence.

By then, Rivers had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and signed a cooperation agreement with authorities. He was sentenced to a little over a year in federal prison. He completed his sentence in August 2015.

It is not clear from federal court records whether the defendants in the trafficking ring were gang-affiliated.

Rivers was sued last year in Colleton County on allegations he conspired with others to defraud U-Haul in an automobile insurance scam.

The allegations were tied to a 2021 collision in Walterboro involving a U-Haul rental truck and a 2013 GMC operated by Rivers. After the crash, Rivers and two passengers of the GMC sought compensation for claimed medical injuries and property damage, but an investigation by the company found inconsistencies in the parties’ statements, according to the lawsuit.

The civil complaint notes Rivers had either been a claimant or insured in 16 reported motor vehicle losses from 2007 to 2021, including another collision with the U-Haul's driver in 2019.

The lawsuit states the defendants’ activities were connected to “an insurer staged loss fraud ring” being investigated out of Charleston.

The attorney who filed the lawsuit, Leslie Whitten, referred questions to a colleague, Jamie Flynn. Flynn did not respond to a request for comment.

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