Banker accused of helping disbarred lawyertaking money on legal settlements from clients was found guilty Tuesday night of charges of wire and bank fraud in South Carolina.
Former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte has been granted bail pending sentencing at a later date. Each of the six charges he was convicted of in federal court carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
It was the first trial tied to Murdaugh’s sprawling legal drama that captivated true-crime audiences.
is accused of 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.
And while Murdaugh, 54, was not in the federal courthouse in Charleston, he was threatening Laffitte’s lawsuit.
Laffitte, 51, did not deny that his handling of Murdaugh’s finances helped the attorney steal clients, but testified in his own defense at his federal trial that he was duped, according to media reports.
When a prosecutor asked Laffitte if he had stolen, he replied “I did, but absolutely not intentionally”.
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.
Laffitte loaned Murdaugh and himself money from these settlements, diverting that money from cases of personal injury or death.
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.
Both through the testimony of Laffitte and other witnesses, defense attorneys attempted to show that the banker was simply trying to follow the instructions of one of his biggest clients and that he had been lied to and manipulated. .
“He admits to doing everything,” defense attorney Matt Austin said in his closing statement. “He just doesn’t think he was committing a crime.”
But 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 he was stealing money from, other clients he had previously stolen money from family members.
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.
Murdaugh was struck off and Laffitte was fired last year.
The Murdaugh murder case even made an appearance at Laffitte’s trial. Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, 52, and their 22-year-old son, Paul, were shot dead with different firearms on June 7, 2021, outside a family home in Colleton County.
An employee of Laffitte’s bank testified that she confronted Murdaugh about the missing fees in one of her cases hours before the murders. Neither Laffitte’s prosecutors nor murder investigators mentioned whether they saw a connection between the events.
Murdaugh and Laffitte are both from the small county of Hampton. Murdaugh’s family law firm dominated the legal community, and his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather served as the region’s elected prosecutors for 87 consecutive years.
The de Laffitte family built the Palmetto State Bank, earning a stellar reputation that led to honors like being named South Carolina Independent Banks Banker of the Year in 2019.
And, like in many small towns, their families have become intertwined. The law firm employee who confronted Murdaugh about missing money on the day his wife and son died was Jeanne Seckinger, Laffitte’s sister-in-law.
More than a third of the witnesses in Laffitte’s trial were his relatives, most of them testifying for prosecutors.