Jury convicts ex-banker Russell Laffitte on 6 financial crime charges

Russell Laffitte, the former CEO of Palmetto State Bank and convicted Murdaugh conspirator, was found guilty on all six charges Tuesday night.
Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 2:51 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 23, 2022 at 9:32 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A federal jury convicted Russell Laffitte, the former CEO of Palmetto State Bank whom prosecutors accused of conspiring with Lowcountry attorney Alex Murdaugh on all six charges Tuesday night.

Laffitte, 51, faced six counts related to financial crimes. Each charge holds a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in prison with a $1 million fine.

Judge Richard Gergel extended Laffitte’s bond, saying he has been compliant. He sets 14 days for post-trial motions.

The jury began deliberating around 10 a.m. Tuesday and they came to a decision at 9:30 p.m.

Nine hours into the 11-hour deliberation, two of the jurors were replaced by alternates.

The first charge is one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud/bank fraud. The government must prove that two people, in this case, Laffitte and Murdaugh, entered into an agreement to commit an unlawful act, the defendant knew the act was unlawful and the defendant acted to further the conspiracy. In her closing, U.S. Attorney Emily Limehouse reminded the jury that in this charge, the intent to commit the crime is the crime.

The second charge is one count of bank fraud and aiding and abetting bank fraud. The argument the government presented for this charge is that Laffitte knowingly repaid Hannah Plyler’s loan with money from Donna Badger’s estate. Laffitte was the conservator for Plyler’s account and personal representative for Badger’s estate. He was charged with the responsibility of both their assets.

The third charge is wire fraud and aiding and abetting wire fraud. The argument the government presented for this charge is a more than $33,000 movement of money from Donna Badger’s estate.

SPECIAL SECTION: The Murdaugh Cases

Charges four through six each deal with misapplication of bank funds and aiding and abetting misapplication of bank funds.

For the fourth charge, the government argued that a $680,000 check Laffitte wrote to PMPED firm misapplied bank funds to cover previous money movement on behalf of Murdaugh.

For the fifth charge, the government argues that Laffitte extended a $750,000 loan to Murdaugh for beach house renovations without proper collateral and knowing the money was used for other means. Multiple witnesses testified that the bank never received any payments on that loan since by the time the payments were due, Murdaugh was in jail.

For the sixth charge, the government argued that Laffitte extended a $500,000 line of credit to Murdaugh for the purpose of farming equipment and documents show a $250,000 cashier’s check from the line pays back Murdaugh’s loan to Hannah Plyler’s trust.

In counts two through six, Laffitte is faced with the aiding and abetting statute. That means the government must prove someone else besides the defendant committed a crime and the defendant knowingly and voluntarily participated and advanced the crime.

Laffitte is presenting the good faith defense. His attorneys argued he did not have intent to commit any crime. Judge Gergel reminded the jurors that deliberately closing one’s eyes to something that would have been obvious is not good faith.

Judge Richard Gergel spent about an hour reading the charges to the jury and explaining the court terms to help with their deliberation. The jury began deliberating a little after 10 a.m.

At about 1:15 p.m. the jury returned to the courtroom asking for a transcript copy of Russell Laffitte’s full testimony. Judge Gergel explained that’s not available, but the court reporter can read back any parts they would like to hear. The jury did not end up hearing any of the testimony read.

At about 3:10 p.m. the jury gathered in the courtroom to re-hear a recording from part of PSB’s November 3, 2021 board meeting. In the recording members discuss the $650,000 check Laffitte says he authorized to PMPED firm to pay back Badger funds funneled by Murdaugh.

At 7:45 p.m. the jury sent four notes to Judge Richard Gergel. The notes share anonymous information from the jurors.

The first two came from the same juror. They explained they needed to take a medication and were concerned about the timing. They also wrote that they felt pressured to change their vote. Gergel agrees this juror can be relieved and replaced by an alternate.

A third note reads “dear judge we are writing to you as a group.” It goes on to say that a group feels one of the jurors is letting their previous experience of being bullied on a different jury interfere with the deliberations in this case. The note describes the juror as ‘hostile to hearing any debate from certain other jurors’ and ‘will not consider the evidence in this trial.’

A fourth note begins “your honor can you please call an alternate” and the writer says they are ‘experiencing anxiety and are unable to make a clear decision.’ Gergel says he spoke to the juror and believes it is best they are excused.

The two excused jurors were replaced by alternates. At about 8:30 p.m., the judge charge the jury to return to the jury room and begin deliberations as a group again. Gergel says he has never seen anything like this.