Attorneys for the former Hampton County bank CEO accused of conspiring with Alex Murdaugh filed a 12-page motion Tuesday asking the court to reconsider the $1 million bond and conditions of release that were set for him earlier this month.
The motion asserts that Russell Lucius Laffitte‘s bond is “highly excessive” and “unduly burdensome”; that the judge’s decision was based on no evidence that he is a flight risk or a danger to the community; and that the state broke its proffer agreement with Laffitte by mentioning his enjoyment of boating to the Bahamas.
Laffitte also takes issue with the state linking him to Murdaugh so closely.
“The state seems determined to tie him to Mr. Murdaugh as much as possible.”
Another argument made in the motion is that co-defendant Cory Fleming received a bond that is “drastically out of proportion” with that of Laffitte.
On May 6, Laffitte — who faces 21 charges for his alleged role in stealing nearly $2 million from Murdaugh’s former clients — appeared in front of Judge Alison Lee, the presiding judge of the state grand jury, via camera from the Kershaw County Detention Center, where he had turned himself in just a few hours earlier.
Prosecutor Creighton Waters asked the court for a $500,000 bond; Laffitte’s attorneys argued for him to be released on his own recognizance.
Lee allowed Laffitte to pay 10 percent of the million-dollar surety bond and placed him on house arrest, barring him from discussing business matters related to Palmetto State Bank, which his family has owned for generations.
In the motion, Laffitte’s attorney Matt Austin points out that Fleming — who stands accused of 23 counts related to the alleged theft of more than $3.7 million from former clients — was allowed to remain free on a $200,000 bond and is not required to wear an ankle monitor or restricted to his house.
“The disparity between the two defendants is unsupported by the record, as the State clearly was not worried about Mr. Laffitte fleeing given that he was allowed to turn himself into [SIC] the Kershaw County Detention Center the morning of the Bond Hearing.”
In mid-April, the state grand jury handed down three superseding indictments that added Laffitte to the growing group of Murdaugh’s alleged conspirators.
The indictments, which weren’t unsealed until May 4, added four new charges for Murdaugh, who is currently being held in lieu of a $7 million bond at the Richland County Detention Center and five new charges for Fleming, who at the time was free on a $100,000 bond.
Fleming was not rearrested after the new charges and instead reached a deal with the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office to pay an additional $100,000 bond in lieu of a second hearing.
During the May 6 hearing, Laffitte’s attorneys told the court that their client had been cooperating with investigators — something disputed by Waters, who said “Mr. Laffitte has given statements, and I’ll just leave it at that.”
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Austin and his co-counsel Bart Daniels took issue with that characterization, noting that Laffitte had voluntarily met with investigators at the bank and had handed over checks, statements and other records to help them.
“My distinction between ‘cooperation’ and ‘statements’ has to do with content. And I will leave it at that,” Waters said.
This exchange is particularly important now because Laffitte is accusing Waters of breaking the terms of their proffer, which his attorneys included with the motion.
The agreement, Laffitte’s attorneys say, prevented the state from using any part of his statements to investigators “against him in a criminal case” — unless Laffitte breached his obligations.
Does this mean that Laffitte didn’t live up to his end of the bargain?
Laffitte says that he hasn’t visited the Bahamas since 2012 and that his connection to the Bahamas isn’t relevant. The information was shared during an interview with investigators and only because he was answering a specific question about it.
The state used the Bahamas detail to shore up its argument that Laffitte is potentially a flight risk.
Not mentioned in the motion is that the state also argued on May 6 that Laffitte had put his house on the market just days before the indictments were handed down and therefore would soon have fewer ties tethering him to the state.
State Rep. Justin Bamberg, who is representing three of Laffitte’s alleged victims, also spoke at the hearing and noted that the weekend prior Laffitte had been pictured on social media hunting turkeys, despite having been indicted weeks earlier. Bamberg also raised the issue of a 2012 private flight that Murdaugh, Fleming and Bamberg attorney Chris Wilson apparently to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, allegedly using stolen money to pay for the flight.
Wilson has not been charged in Murdaugh’s alleged conspiracy ring and he denies knowing that the plane might have been paid for with stolen money.
Laffitte’s attorneys point out that their client wasn’t on that flight and dismissed the argument that he “has access to friends and associates … who have access to private planes.”
“Defense counsel is at a loss in understanding how simply knowing two people, especially two people whose freedom has been curtailed by the Court to a substantial degree, makes Mr. Laffitte a flight risk.”
That Laffitte has a student pilot’s license and the ability to pilot a plane was neither mentioned by the state at the May 6 hearing nor in Tuesday’s motion.
The motion relies heavily on Laffitte’s lack of a criminal record and the “non-violent” nature of his alleged crimes.
“To date, defense counsel has been unable to find any supporting precedent in which a Court has held a defendant charged with non-violent crimes constituted a danger to the community based solely on liking to hunt.”
According to the state Attorney General’s Office, Laffitte requested a proffer agreement and said he would voluntarily provide information to law enforcement.
The agreement does not seem to offer Laffitte anything in exchange for his cooperation. In fact, the AG’s Office points out, “This proffer is solely entered into by the parties due to Russell Laffitte(‘s) request to be interviewed by law enforcement and Russell Laffitte(‘s) request to do so pursuant to a proffer agreement.”
Laffitte has not been offered immunity or any considering for a plea agreement. He is required to sit for a polygraph if he is asked. He is also required to provide truthful and “full” answers to any questions law enforcement has for him.
“He must also testify fully and truthfully before any grand juries and at any trials or other proceedings if called upon to do so by the state from time to time, and can be subject to prosecution for perjury for not testifying truthfully.”
By receiving the proffer, “the state does not agree to forego [SIC] or dismiss any charge against Russell Laffitte.”
Laffitte contends that he was tricked by Murdaugh and unknowingly aided in Murdaugh’s alleged crimes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Liz Farrell is the new executive editor at FITSNews. She was named 2018’s top columnist in the state by South Carolina Press Association and is back after taking a nearly two-year break from corporate journalism to reclaim her soul. Email her at [email protected] or tweet her @ElizFarrell.
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