Saturday, May 21, 2022

Grand jury charges Hampton banker Russell Laffitte in Murdaugh fraud conspiracy case

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Former Hampton, South Carolina bank executive Russell Laffitte this week became the third associate of Alex Murdaugh hit with felony charges over his apparent involvement in Murdaugh’s years-long string of alleged thefts, money laundering and fraud schemes.

Laffitte, former CEO of the Hampton-based Palmetto State Bank franchise, is named in three new superseding indictments from the state grand jury accusing him of misappropriating funds he had control over as both a bank agent and a fiduciary in court cases involving Murdaugh.

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Prosecutors accuse Laffitte of working with Murdaugh to allow the now jailed Hampton attorney to steal money from his own clients, with said clients’ money being taken from accounts Laffitte oversaw as a top official at Palmetto State Bank.

Authorities say evidence also shows Laffitte accepted stolen client money from Murdaugh as repayment for loans Laffitte had given Murdaugh that were taken out of trust accounts for people Laffitte had represented as fiduciary in unrelated court cases.

In all, authorities say Laffitte and Murdaugh defrauded Palmetto State Bank, Murdaugh’s former law firm and various individuals they represented out of $1,832,772. Laffitte was fired by Palmetto State Bank in January 2022.

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Along with the first-time charges for Laffitte, the state grand jury also pinned four new felony charges on Murdaugh, plus four new felonies and one misdemeanor charge on Murdaugh’s longtime friend and fellow attorney Cory Fleming, all stemming from newly uncovered facts of their previously detailed crimes.

State investigators have been working to unravel Murdaugh’s spate of financial crimes for the better part of a year, following the still unsolved murder of Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, in June 2021.

The disgraced attorney currently sits in a Columbia jail, buried under an apparently unpayable $7 million bond amount and a growing mountain of 79 state charges alleging he stole, laundered and apparently spent nearly $8.4 million in funds belonging to former clients and business associates between at least 2011 and 2021.

Murdaugh was first jailed in September 2021 on criminal conspiracy and insurance fraud charges after he hired another associate, friend and former client Curtis “Eddie” Smith, to kill him in a bizarre assisted suicide plot meant to enrich Murdaugh’s surviving son, Buster, through proceeds of a $10 million life insurance policy.

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Chalking his actions up to grief and prescription pain killer addiction, Murdaugh was released from jail and entered a rehabilitation facility in Florida.

Immediately upon his exit from that drug center in October 2021, Murdaugh was arrested on county-level grand jury charges out of Beaufort alleging he’d stolen wrongful death settlements from the estate of his former housekeeper and nanny Gloria Satterfield

In the Satterfield case, Murdaugh reportedly convinced Satterfield’s sons to sue him for insurance money after their mother died from injuries suffered in a trip-and-fall accident at Murdaugh’s home in February 2018.

Investigators say Murdaugh promised to admit fault in Satterfield’s death so the sons would get sizeable settlements from Murdaugh’s homeowners insurance providers.

The large settlements happened, coming in at a combined $4.3 million. But Satterfield’s sons didn’t get any of that money. State prosecutors say their investigations show Murdaugh worked behind the scenes with Fleming to keep the bulk of it, and Fleming got a cut, too.

Fleming was indicted in March 2022 after evidence revealed his role as an accomplice to Murdaugh in the Satterfield case and before that another case involving a man named HaKeem Pinckney.

State grand jury indictments previously accused Murdaugh and Fleming of pilfering at least $750,000 in combined funds from settlements meant for Hakeem Pinckney and his cousin, Natarsha Thomas, who were badly injured in a 2010 car crash that left Pinckney a quadriplegic. Pinckney later died.

Laffitte was recruited to be personal representative for Pinckney and his family in court, and prosecutors alleged he likely knew about and approved some of the transactions involving Murdaugh and Fleming’s thefts from the family’s settlement funds.

Additionally, the new superseding indictments claim Fleming was discovered to have kept over $8,000 from Pinckney’s settlements to pay for a private jet he, Murdaugh and another attorney chartered so they could see the University of South Carolina’s baseball team play in the the 2012 College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.

Totaled, Murdaugh and Laffitte are accused of defrauding the Satterfield and Pinckney families of more than $3.75 million.

Attorneys for the Satterfield family have already recovered in excess of $7 million in funds from various parties they’ve sued in a still pending civil case stemming from the thefts by Murdaugh and Fleming.

Meantime, attorneys for the Pinckney family filed a lis pendens against Laffitte’s properties in April, giving notice they intend to sue Laffitte, Murdaugh and Fleming in the immediate future as they attempt to recover stolen funds for their clients, as well.

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