A South Carolina bank scion has been found guilty of helping disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh withdraw money from clients’ legal settlements.
Former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte was convicted Tuesday night of wire and bank fraud in the first trial related to Murdaugh’s sprawling legal drama. Laffitte is allowed to remain on bail pending sentencing, while each of the six charges he was convicted of in federal court carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Murdaugh is charged with killing his wife and son and his murder trial is set to begin in January. He also faces nearly 100 other charges ranging from money laundering and drug offenses to stealing from clients and attempting to stage his own death to obtain a life insurance benefit from his surviving son. $10 million.
Federal prosecutors said Laffitte was the personal financial representative or custodian of six of Murdaugh’s personal injury clients, including two sisters, Alania Spohn and Hannah Plyler, who were injured as children and lost their mother and brother. in a tragic car accident in 2005.
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Laffitte is accused of making personal loans of hundreds of thousands of dollars to himself and Murdaugh from the six curator accounts, and when deadlines approached on one he is said to have often shot another to cover up. The balance. He and Murdaugh allegedly used the embezzled funds for personal expenses for themselves and their family members, as well as to cover 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 emerged that he helped Murdaugh rob other injured customers – a deaf athlete named Hakeem L. Pinckney, who became a quadriplegic and later died. – as well as the members of his family following a car accident with rollover.
Laffitte, 51, did not deny that his handling of Murdaugh’s finances helped the attorney steal clients, but tested in his own defense at his federal trial that he was duped, according to media reports.
When a prosecutor asked Laffitte if he stole, he replied, “I did, but absolutely not intentionally.”
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Prosecutors had to prove that Laffitte deliberately participated in the fraud to convict him.
Prosecutors said Laffitte knew what he was doing when he was actually working as Murdaugh’s personal banker and eventually became the court-appointed custodian of 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 keep 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 this could have happened without the defendant,” Limehouse said.
Prosecutors pointed out that Murdaugh gave checks to Laffitte made out to the bank rather than clients, which allowed the lawyer to divert the money to people he owed money to, whether it was his law firm. lawyers he was stealing money from, other clients he had money already stolen from, or family members.
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It also allowed Laffitte to avoid paying taxes.
Laffitte was found guilty of one count of bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy, as well as three counts of embezzlement of bank funds. He also faces 21 counts of financial crimes in state court.
Danielle Wallace of Fox News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.