A South Carolina banking scion was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday for allegedly helping disbarred attorney and newly accused murderer and drug trafficker Alex Murdaugh steal hundreds of thousands from his legal clients.
The new indictment for former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte is the first-time federal prosecutors in South Carolina have sought charges through FBI investigations in the long spiraling fall from grace of Murdaugh, whose family ran a prominent personal injury law firm for about a century and also controlled the local prosecutor’s office in the state’s Low Country for several generations. Meanwhile, Laffitte's family founded Palmetto State Bank in the same rural town of Hampton, South Carolina, around the same time in 1907.
The federal grand jury’s indictment, handed down from Charleston, does not mention Murdaugh by name but does say Laffitte collected $391,781.07 in fees for serving as conservator and personal representative for six clients of an unidentified "bank customer," who prosecutors describe as working for a "personal injury attorney at a law firm in Hampton, South Carolina."
Lawyers representing at least two of those clients and alleged victims — now adult sisters seriously injured in a 2005 tragic rollover automobile accident that killed their mother and brother — identified Murdaugh as the bank customer. As children at the time of the deadly crash, Alania Spahn and Hannah Plyler placed their trust in Murdaugh, his law firm, Laffitte and Palmetto State Bank to guide them through a subsequent lawsuit and the preservation of the following financial settlement until they turned 18.
"As the years ensued, the girls viewed Russ Laffitte as a father figure and trusted him to navigate the waters ahead for them and to guide them," according to the statement released by attorneys Eric Bland and Ronald Richter. "It is difficult to express the emotions and disappointment of learning years later that those who had sworn to protect the Plylers chose instead to prey upon them. Russ Laffitte and Alex Murdaugh plundered their conservator accounts and treated it like their own personal slush fund."
"Conservatorship accounts are sacrosanct. They are not financial playgrounds for those who are entrusted with the role of conservator," Bland and Richter’s statement provided to Fox News Digital Wednesday continued. "It is right and just that Mr. Laffitte should have to answer for his conduct. Perhaps others will also be called upon to answer important questions about their roles in the Plyler tragedy in the months to come. In any event, the Plylers are committed to providing any cooperation that may be required, and they are humbled that the U.S. Attorney chose their case as the first case to enter the Murdaugh field of play."
Laffitte was fired from Palmetto State Bank in January as new allegations came to light that he helped Murdaugh and Murdaugh’s lawyer friend and former college roommate, Cory Fleming, steal from another legal client named Hakeem L. Pinckney, a deaf athlete rendered a quadriplegic following a rollover car accident that also seriously injured his family members.
Though Wednesday saw the first federal charges, Laffitte had been indicted for the first time in May by a South Carolina grand jury for the alleged scheme victimizing the Pinckney family.
Also Wednesday, Murdaugh pleaded not guilty to new murder charges accusing him of the June 7, 2021, killings of his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, and their 22-year-old son, Paul Murdaugh. The mysterious deaths on the family’s sprawling estate prompted a slew of investigations into Murdaugh’s financial dealings.
Prosecutors so far have not revealed what evidence finally led to charges against Alex Murdaugh following the 13-month investigation.
Last September, Murdaugh was confronted by other lawyers for the same personal injury law firm that bore his family’s name for allegedly stealing millions, and the next day, Murdaugh was grazed by a bullet on a rural road in an alleged botched suicide for hire plot.
Murdaugh and his would-be hitman, Curtis Smith, were also recently indicted by a state grand jury in connection to an alleged narcotics trafficking ring peddling opioids in the region.
After being airlifted to the hospital following the Labor Day weekend shooting in rural Hampton County, Murdaugh did face charges for the suicide for hire plot but was released on his own recognizance and allowed to travel out of state and check into drug rehab centers. He was rearrested in October and charged of defrauding the family of his dead housekeeper and former nanny, Gloria Satterfield, out of $4.3 million in settlement funds. Murdaugh has been jailed since.
Satterfield died at a hospital in February 2018 weeks after an alleged trip and fall accident on steps at Murdaugh’s home. State authorities last month said they would exhume her body.
Wednesday’s indictment says Laffitte extended $355,000 in personal loans to himself and $990,000 in personal loans to Murdaugh from funds held at the bank and belonging to the personal injury clients. He is also accused of willfully misapplying bank funds. Specifically, on October 28, 2021, Laffitte paid the law firm $680,000 without notice to or consent from the bank, knowing that he had fraudulently transferred the money to Murdaugh, according to the federal indictment.
Lastly, the federal indictment alleges that on July 15, 2021, Laffitte willfully misapplied $750,000 of bank funds by extending a commercial loan to Murdaugh. The banker did so while knowing that the loan was essentially unsecured and that the loan proceeds would be and were used to pay an attorney and to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in overdraft on Murdaugh’s personal account.
Laffitte faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 30 years on all charges, federal prosecutors said.