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Alex Murdaugh’s banker convicted for role in alleged scheme to steal money from clients’ legal settlements

CHARLESTON, S.C. — A banker charged with serving to disbarred legal professional Alex Murdaugh take cash from the authorized settlements of shoppers was discovered responsible late Tuesday of wire and financial institution fraud costs in South Carolina.

Former Palmetto State Financial institution CEO Russell Laffitte was allowed to stay free on bail as he awaits sentencing at a later date. Every of the six costs he was convicted of in federal court docket carry a most sentence of as much as 30 years in jail.

Former Palmetto State Financial institution CEO Russell Laffitte exits federal court docket in Charleston, S.C. on Sept. 6. John Monk / The State/Tribune Information Service by way of Getty Pictures file

It was the primary trial associated to the sprawling Murdaugh authorized drama that has captivated true-crime audiences.

Murdaugh is charged with killing his spouse and son and his homicide trial is ready to start out in January. He additionally faces practically 100 different costs starting from cash laundering to drug offenses to stealing from shoppers and attempting to prepare his personal dying to get his surviving son a $10 million life insurance coverage profit.

And whereas Murdaugh, 54, wasn’t within the federal courthouse in Charleston, he loomed over Laffitte’s trial.

Laffitte, 51, didn’t deny that his dealing with of Murdaugh’s funds helped the legal professional steal from shoppers, however testified in his personal protection throughout his federal trial that he was duped, in response to information retailers.

When a prosecutor requested Laffitte if he stole, he answered “I did, however completely not deliberately.”

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Prosecutors needed to show Laffitte willfully participated within the fraud to convict him.

Prosecutors stated Laffitte knew what he was doing when he successfully labored as Murdaugh’s private banker and ultimately turned the court-appointed custodian for the settlement cash for a number of of his underage shoppers.

Laffitte loaned Murdaugh and himself cash from these settlements, diverting that cash from private harm or dying circumstances.

Murdaugh had a plan to steal the cash, however wanted somebody organized and detail-oriented to stop him from being simply caught, prosecutor Emily Limehouse stated in her closing assertion.

“None of this might have occurred with out Alex Murdaugh, however none of it might have occurred with out the defendant,” Limehouse stated.

Alex Murdaugh
Alex Murdaugh awaits the start of his bond listening to within the Richland Judicial Middle in Columbia, S.C. in October 2021.Lewis M. Levine / AP file

Each by means of Laffitte’s testimony and different witnesses, protection attorneys tried to point out the banker was simply attempting to comply with the directions of certainly one of his greatest shoppers and was lied to and manipulated.

“He admits to doing all of it,” protection legal professional Matt Austin stated in his closing assertion. “He simply doesn’t assume he was committing a criminal offense.”

However prosecutors identified that Murdaugh was giving Laffitte checks written to the financial institution as a substitute of to the shoppers, which allowed the lawyer to divert the money to individuals he owed cash to, whether or not it’s his legislation agency he was stealing cash from, different shoppers he had already stolen cash from or members of the family.

That additionally allowed Laffitte to keep away from paying taxes.

Laffitte was convicted on one rely every of financial institution fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy, plus three counts of misapplication of financial institution funds. He additionally faces 21 counts of economic crimes in state court docket.

Murdaugh was disbarred and Laffitte was fired final yr.

The Murdaugh homicide case even made an look Laffitte’s trial. Murdaugh’s spouse Maggie, 52, and their 22-year-old son, Paul, had been shot to dying with totally different weapons on June 7, 2021, outdoors a household house in Colleton County.

An worker at Laffitte’s financial institution testified she confronted Murdaugh about lacking charges from certainly one of his circumstances hours earlier than the killings. Neither prosecutors in Laffitte’s, nor the investigators within the killings, have talked about whether or not they see a hyperlink between the occasions.

Each Murdaugh and Laffitte are from tiny Hampton County. Murdaugh’s household legislation agency dominated the authorized neighborhood and his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had been the realm’s elected prosecutors for 87 years straight.

Laffitte’s household constructed Palmetto State Financial institution, incomes a sterling popularity that led to honors like being named banker of the yr by the Unbiased Banks of South Carolina in 2019.

And, as in lots of small cities, their households intertwined. The legislation agency worker who confronted Murdaugh concerning the lacking cash the day his spouse and son died was Jeanne Seckinger, Laffitte’s sister-in-law.

Greater than a 3rd of the witnesses in Laffitte’s trial had been his family, with most of them testifying for prosecutors.

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