A South Carolina bank scion has been found guilty of helping disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh take money from the legal settlements of clients.
Former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte was convicted late Tuesday on wire and bank fraud charges in the first trial related to the sprawling Murdaugh legal drama. Laffitte is allowed to remain free on bail as he awaits sentencing, while each of the six charges he was convicted of in federal court carry a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in prison.
Murdaugh is charged with killing his wife and son and his murder trial is set to start in January. He also faces nearly 100 other charges ranging from money laundering to drug offenses to stealing from clients and trying to arrange his own death to get his surviving son a $10 million life insurance benefit.
Federal prosecutors said Laffitte served as the personal financial representative or conservator for six of Murdaugh’s personal injury clients, including two sisters, Alania Spohn and Hannah Plyler, who as children were injured and lost their mother and brother in a tragic rollover car accident in 2005.
Laffitte is accused of issuing personal loans of hundreds of thousands of dollars to himself and Murdaugh from the six conservator accounts, and when deadlines approached on one, he allegedly often drew from another to cover the balance. He and Murdaugh allegedly used the misappropriated funds for personal expenses for themselves and family members, as well as to cover the overdrafts on checking accounts sometimes in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Laffitte was fired from Palmetto State Bank in January following an internal audit around the same time allegations came to light that he allegedly helped Murdaugh steal from other personal injury clients – a deaf athlete named Hakeem L. Pinckney, who was rendered a quadriplegic and later died – as well as his family members following a rollover car accident.
Laffitte, 51, didn’t deny that his handling of Murdaugh’s finances helped the attorney steal from clients, but testified in his own defense during his federal trial that he was duped, according to news outlets.
When a prosecutor asked Laffitte if he stole, he answered, “I did, but absolutely not intentionally.”
Prosecutors had to prove Laffitte willfully participated in the fraud to convict him.
Prosecutors said Laffitte knew what he was doing when he effectively worked as Murdaugh’s personal banker and eventually became the court-appointed custodian for the settlement money for several of his underage clients.
Murdaugh had a plan to steal the money, but needed someone organized and detail-oriented to prevent him from being easily caught, prosecutor Emily Limehouse said in her closing statement.
“None of this would have happened without Alex Murdaugh, but none of it could have happened without the defendant,” Limehouse said.
Prosecutors pointed out that Murdaugh was giving Laffitte checks written to the bank instead of to the clients, which allowed the lawyer to divert the cash to people he owed money to, whether it be his law firm he was stealing money from, other clients he had already stolen money from, or family members.
That also allowed Laffitte to avoid paying taxes.
Laffitte was convicted on one count each of bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy, plus three counts of misapplication of bank funds. He also faces 21 counts of financial crimes in state court.
Fox News’ Danielle Wallace and The Associated Press contributed to this report.