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Alex Murdaugh’s Personal Banker Gets Seven Years For Financial Crimes, Fraud
“These were extremely vulnerable people... and he treated them like players on a chessboard,” U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said of Russell Laffitte, a longtime associate of convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh.
An ex-South Carolina banking executive, and convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh’s personal banker, was sentenced for conspiring with the disgraced legal scion to defraud clients of nearly $2 million in legal settlements.
Russell Laffitte, 53, was handed a seven-year federal prison sentence at a Charleston courthouse on Tuesday on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, bank fraud and misapplying bank funds, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of South Carolina announced.
Laffitte, the former CEO at Palmetto State Bank and a Murdaugh associate, was convicted in November after nearly three weeks of jury trial proceedings. He’s the first Murdaugh accomplice to receive prison time in the aftermath of the jailed lawyer’s conviction in the double murder of his wife and son, according to NBC News.
At trial, prosecutors contended that the Hampton County banker worked closely in tandem with Muradaugh to perpetuate the insurance settlement scheme, which swindled hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal funds from unsuspecting clients of Murdaugh’s legal firm.
Laffitte, like Murdaugh, came from a wealthy, locally-known South Carolina family with established roots in banking. The banking executive also functioned as a court-appointed conservator who oversaw the appropriation of settlement funds that Murdaugh had won for his clients through his civil practice. Prosecutors, however, said Laffitte would ultimately net roughly $450,000 throughout his entire involvement in the scheme. He also extended $990,000 in personal loans to Murdaugh from the clients’ Palmetto funds, per NBC News.
“These were extremely vulnerable people... and he treated them like players on a chessboard,” U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said in court.
The federal judge also ordered Laffitte to pay upwards of $3 million in restitution, Charleston newspaper The Post and Courier reported. According to reports, Murdaugh will also be responsible for covering a portion of that financial penalty.
“Russell Laffitte used his position of power and trust to steal from unusually vulnerable victims,” U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs said. “His crimes undermine the public’s trust in the judicial and banking systems, and we are grateful to the FBI, South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division for their partnership in ensuring he is held accountable.”
Laffitte, who briefly addressed the court this week before his sentence was imposed, expressed remorse for his actions in a prepared statement.
“I should have taken more time to get to know you all,” Laffitte said to the victims.
Laffitte has indicated he intends to appeal the court’s ruling.
“We appreciate the fact that the judge varied downwards and that’s all we have to say,” Mark Moore, Laffitte’s defense lawyer said, according to South Carolina newspaper The State.
Federal sentencing guidelines had initially recommended Laffitte spend more than 11 years in prison.
Moore had previously argued that due to the Murdaugh case’s “notorious” reputation, his client’s reputation had been destroyed across the country and around the world.
“He and his family have already been substantially punished,” Moore said.
Murdaugh is also accused of swindling $4.3 million from the family of former housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, who mysteriously died after suffering a fatal trip and fall at the disgraced lawyer’s home. Murdaugh was indicted in May on a series of fraud charges in connection with the alleged insurance settlement scheme.
Before his murder trial, Murdaugh resigned from his family law firm after he was accused of misappropriating client funds. That resignation came days after the former South Carolina lawyer suffered a “superficial” gunshot wound to the head following a purported roadside shooting, which prosecutors say Murdaugh orchestrated in order to leave a $10M life insurance payout to his surviving son, Buster Murdaugh.
Murdaugh was ultimately barred from working with the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office amid the embezzlement scandal.