This is a news analysis.
When Hakeem Pinckney’s family visited him at the North Augusta nursing home where he lived, they wouldn’t announce themselves beforehand.
They would do a ”pop-up” and intentionally surprise the staff in the hopes of seeing the actual conditions in which Hakeem was living — in the hopes of seeing how the son and brother they loved was being treated on any given day.
One time, they found him lying on a bed stained with his urine.
Another time, they discovered that the whistle-like device Hakeem used to communicate any medical distress with the nursing home staff had fallen behind his bed. This was a particularly cruel act of negligence because Hakeem was deaf and, as a result of an August 2009 car wreck, a quadriplegic.
But his mind was good.
He was a bright and thriving 21-year-old man now trapped in a body he couldn’t operate on his own. He was living in one of the only nursing homes he could afford until his and his family’s lawsuits could be settled against the maker of the tires that had failed them.
When that happened, Hakeem was going to get the best treatment money could buy.
His family was going to be able to bring him home.
Sadly, he did not live to go home. Nor did he see a dime of that settlement.
Instead, his grieving mother was left with the permanent heartbreak of knowing her son could not be saved in time.
Hakeem Pinckney died Oct. 11, 2011, of cardiac arrest, which — according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the nursing home in 2014 — occurred after his ventilator had become unplugged for more than 30 minutes before someone noticed.
His death came just four days after a multimillion-dollar settlement had been reached in his case.
Under normal circumstances, the timing of this might cause a person to reflect on the tragic twist of fate that had befallen him and his loved ones.
But there are no “normal circumstances” in this case.
DON’T MISS A STORY …
He was also represented by a conservator — Murdaugh’s friend Russell Laffitte, the former CEO of Palmetto State Bank.
Everything — every fact, every document, every rumor uttered — about Hakeem’s case must now be revisited and scrutinized.
Murdaugh and Laffitte face multiple charges of theft and fraud in Hakeem’s case. Laffitte faces additional federal charges. So far, the two are accused of stealing around $1 million from Hakeem’s estate and from his family.
But the alleged bad acts go much deeper than that.
The monetary value of Hakeem Pinckney’s life presented a major opportunity to Murdaugh and Laffitte, two piratical buffoons whose last names doubled as résumés.
Hakeem was a young man. He would require intensive medical care for the rest of his life. The payout for his case was expected to be substantial.
Thus, Hakeem’s untimely death would be a major problem for Murdaugh and Laffitte. His death would mean a lot less money coming their way.
In the aftermath of Hakeem’s passing, Murdaugh and Laffitte appear to have fraudulently represented Hakeem as alive to at least one insurance company.
They also seem to have determined on their own — outside the purview of the court and state law — who would receive Hakeem’s fortune. The part that wasn’t allegedly stolen, anyway.
Then the two embarked on what would become a three-year caper to cover their alleged tracks.
Their main objective seems to have been to keep Hakeem’s father, Melverick Edwards, far from Hakeem’s estate — and therefore nowhere near discovering their alleged crimes.
Documents obtained by FITSNews show that, in doing so, these two men created, in the plainest of terms, an unconscionable mess.
And while Murdaugh’s and Laffitte’s high-priced attorneys help them craft a truth seaworthy enough to navigate the rough waters of these facts, everyone affected by their actions will be left to figure out how to fix what they did.
Like all Murdaugh-related stories, this is a complex one. To follow what happened here, let’s take it one day at a time …
Aug. 22, 2009: The Car Crash
Hakeem Pinckney of Yemassee is catastrophically injured in a car crash on Interstate 95 in Hampton County. His mother, Pamela Pinckney, sister Shaquarah Pinckney and cousin Natasha Thomas are severely injured as well.
Dec. 31, 2009: Hakeem Moves to Aiken County
Hakeem Pinckney becomes a resident at PruittHealth in North Augusta — about two hours from his family in Hampton County.
NOTE: This means Hakeem is no longer a resident of Hampton County. Later Murdaugh and Laffitte will let the court believe that he is — presumably so they can conduct their business through the Hampton County Probate Court, where both men were well known.
April 26, 2010: A Lawsuit Is Filed
Alex Murdaugh and his partner Ronnie Crosby, who specializes in tire-tread separation cases, file a complaint in Hampton County Court on Hakeem’s behalf against Michelin North America Inc., Budget Tire Inc. and Hakeem’s mother, Pamela Pinckney, who was driving at the time of the crash.
NOTE: In personal injury cases involving car wrecks, the driver is often listed as a defendant to access their insurance coverage.
Murdaugh’s best friend Cory Fleming, then of Moss, Kuhn and Fleming in Beaufort, represents Pamela Pinckney. Lee Bowers of Bowers and Siren in Estill represents Pamela’s insurance company.
NOTE: Fleming will later be charged with conspiring with Murdaugh and Russell Laffitte to steal money from Pamela Pinckney’s settlement.
The other attorneys listed are Mitch Griffith of Charleston, who represents Budget Tire Inc.; and Elizabeth Helm, Crystal McCall and Marvin Quattlebaum Jr. of Nelson Mullins in Atlanta and Greenville, who represent Michelin North America Inc.
Michael Horger of Horger, Horger and Justice in Orangeburg is listed as the mediator. David Anderson of Richardson, Plowden, Carpenter and Robinson in Columbia is listed as “alternate mediator.”
Marvin C. Jones of “Office of the Jasper County Attorney” in Ridgeland is listed as “other party to the case.”
The “disposition judge” listed with the case is Judge Perry Buckner, an alleged ally of Murdaugh and his law firm, Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick.
May 13, 2010: Russell Laffitte Is on the Scene
At some point prior to this date, Murdaugh asks Russell Laffitte — an employee of Palmetto State Bank, which his family has owned for generations — to serve as Hakeem’s conservator.
NOTE: A ”conservator” is someone a court appoints to handle a person’s finances when that person is a minor or incapacitated and unable to make decisions on their own. In Murdaugh’s alleged schemes, this role and the role of personal representative were used repeatedly as a way to effectively separate clients from their own cases and finances. This arrangement with Palmetto State Bank seemed to give Murdaugh unfettered access to money that was not his.
On this date Laffitte formally attests to the accuracy of a petition for conservatorship that does not get filed with the court until September, five days after the court approves his appointment.
This is the first mention of Laffitte’s involvement in the case in the documents obtained by FITSNews.
May 26, 2010: Hakeem’s Estate Is Opened in the Wrong Court
Melverick Edwards, Hakeem’s father, signs a “Renunciation of Right to Administration” form nominating Russell Laffitte as Hakeem’s conservator.
Hakeem’s mother, Pamela Pinckney, does the same, but her form does not include the date she signed it.
On both forms, the words “personal representative,” which appear twice on each document, are crossed off with a pen and the word “conservator” is handwritten over top.
NOTE: A ”personal representative” is someone who represents the estate of a person who has died. It appears that Murdaugh or his staff prepared the form with incorrect information.
Each form is signed by a ”witness,” but the witnesses’ names are not printed under their signatures.
The forms get filed in Hampton County Probate Court on June 2, 2010, even though Hakeem is now a resident of Aiken County.
State law dictates that the venue for guardianship proceedings is “in the place where the alleged incapacitated individual or ward resides or is present.”
NOTE: The decision to open Hakeem’s estate in Hampton County is a significant one because of Alex Murdaugh’s relationship with the court, which seems to have granted him broad access and unusual leeway in his cases. This unique access is seen a significant contributing factor in his ability to conduct his alleged scheme.
Also on this date, a “Consent to Appointment of Conservator” document is signed by Hakeem Pinckney with an “X.” Pamela Pinckney and a relative named Carrie B. Pinckney attest to witnessing Hakeem sign the consent document “freely and willingly.”
Though no notary stamp appears on the page, Alex Murdaugh appears to have signed the document as the notary, saying his commission expires Aug. 3, 2016.
Aug. 26, 2010: ‘My Property May Be Wasted …’
A second “Consent for Conservator” document is signed and filed in Hampton County Probate Court in which Hakeem Pinckney “being of sound mind and in possession of my mental faculties” again consents to the appointment of Russell Laffitte as conservator over him and gives consent for Alex Murdaugh to serve as “GAL,” which stands for guardian ad litem.
NOTE: A guardian ad litem is a person appointed by the court to serve the best interest of a child. Hakeem was 19 at the time and no longer considered a ”child” by South Carolina law. No court appears to have appointed Murdaugh as Hakeem’s guardian ad litem — nor was there a need for Murdaugh to serve as guardian ad litem when he was already Hakeem’s attorney.
The document reads:
“I require a conservator because I am unable to manage my property and affairs effectively due to my high level quadriplegia which has rendered me immobile. I hereby further attest that my property may be wasted or dissipated unless management is provided.”
Instead of using an “X” to sign the document, Hakeem — a quadriplegic — appears to have provided a full signature this time.
Sept. 3, 2010: ‘No Disbursements to Be Made …’
Russell Laffitte is officially appointed as conservator for Hakeem Pinckney. Hampton County Probate Court Judge Sheila Odom signs the “Fiduciary Letters” form and imposes a restriction: “NO DISBURSEMENTS TO BE MADE WITHOUT PRIOR APPROVAL OF THE HAMPTON COUNTY PROBATE COURT.”
NOTE: Judge Odom was first elected Hampton County probate judge in 1994. Like many probate court judges in South Carolina, she is not an attorney nor does she list a college degree. Though her current term does not expire until 2023, she recently retired, according to sources. Murdaugh and Laffitte’s alleged scheme relied, in part, on an apparent lack of scrutiny from Hampton County Probate Court. Before approving actions in probate cases, the probate judge is tasked with verifying that a person’s estate is being managed according to that person’s best interests. Probate judges scrutinize receipts, question conservators and personal representatives about expenses and verify that accounts are reconciling.
Sept. 8, 2010: Hakeem ‘Resides in This County’
A petition, which is signed by Alex Murdaugh, is filed in Hampton County Probate Court.
The petition notes that Hakeem does not have a will and does not have a power of attorney.
NOTE: Hakeem’s lack of a will is important. After Hakeem’s death, Russell Laffitte — while appearing to pretend that Hakeem was still alive and without statutory authority to create a will — had to find a workaround.
Murdaugh also checks a box indicating that Hakeem “resides in this county,” though this had not been the case for almost a year.
Murdaugh includes a list of Hakeem’s family members but erroneously puts Natasha Thomas down as Hakeem’s sister.
Where Murdaugh is asked to list Hakeem’s property and assets, he has left the form blank.
In the list of reasons for the appointment of Laffitte as conservator, Murdaugh chose “Other” and typed in “Petitioner is Vice President of Palmetto Sate Bank [typo is Murdaugh’s] and has the ability and willingness to serve as Personal Representative.”
NOTE: Murdaugh uses the words “personal representative.” A personal representative represents the estate of a deceased person. Hakeem was alive. This petition was to make Laffitte “conservator.”
Whether this was an intentional muddying of the waters on Murdaugh’s part is not known, but these two roles have played significant parts in Murdaugh’s alleged schemes.
In Hakeem’s case it would soon become very problematic.
Though, the petition is stamped as “received” by Hampton County Probate Court on “9-8-10,” Murdaugh dates the document as being executed on the 9th of September 2010.
A notary named Brenda Tuten validates the petition and dates it Sept. 8, 2010.
NOTE: Alex Murdaugh’s legal filings often contained errors, omissions, incorrect information and other anomalies.
Oct. 15, 2010: Hakeem’s Estate Valued at $0
Russell Laffitte files the required “Inventory and Appraisement” form with the Hampton County Probate Court on behalf of Hakeem Pinckney.
The six-page filing — prepared by Alex Murdaugh or his staff — purports to be in the ”County of Hakeem L. Pinckney” and ”In the Matter of Hampton.”
It is meant to contain a full list of ”all real and personal property of this estate.” Laffitte estimated Hakeem’s estate to be valued at $0.
NOTE: A conservator’s job is to manage the financial affairs of an incapacitated person or a minor. At this point — more than a year after the crash — Hakeem has no money for Laffitte to manage because there has been no settlement. A July 20, 2022, federal indictment notes that even after Hakeem’s settlement was paid more than a year later, “none of the funds went through the conservatorship accounts, and RUSSELL LUCIUS LAFFITTE never managed any money.” According to the indictment, though, Laffitte would later charge Hakeem’s estate — in which he had no actual role — $60,000 for the work he allegedly did as “conservator” when Hakeem was alive.
This form was supposed to have been filed within 30 days of Laffitte’s appointment, which was Sept. 3, 2010.
Though the form wasn’t egregiously overdue, the date is crossed off of the ”Filed” stamp that Hampton County used to mark the form as received.
Oct. 20, 2010: Russell Laffitte as ”Plaintiff”
Alex Murdaugh files two more lawsuits in Hampton County Court — one on behalf of Natasha Thomas, the other on behalf of Shaquarah Pinckney — against Michelin North America Inc., Budget Tire Inc. and Natasha’s aunt, Pamela Pinckney, who was driving at the time of the crash.
Russell Laffitte — who is Natasha’s conservator — serves as plaintiff in the case.
Murdaugh’s best friend Cory Fleming, then of Moss, Kuhn and Fleming in Beaufort, represents Pamela Pinckney. Mary Kay Siren of Bowers and Siren in Bluffton represents Pamela’s insurance company.
The other attorneys listed are Mitch Griffith of Charleston, who represents Budget Tire Inc.; Crystal McCall and Marvin Quattlebaum Jr. of Nelson Mullins in Greenville, who represent Michelin North America Inc.
In Natasha’s case, Thomas Stoney II of Stoney and Stoney in Summerville is the mediator. Richard A. Phinney of Ogletree, Deakins, Dash, Smoak and Stewart of Greenville is listed as the alternate mediator.
In Shaquarah’s case, V.M. Smith of Florence is the mediator. Lawrence E. Richter Jr. of Mount Pleasant is listed as the alternate mediator.
NOTE: A July 20, 2022, federal indictment notes that Laffitte — who served as Natasha’s conservator as well — charged her $15,000 for the work he allegedly did for her. Also according to the indictment, like with Hakeem, “none of the funds went through the conservatorship accounts, and RUSSELL LUCIUS LAFFITTE never managed any money” for Natasha.
Nov. 5, 2010: ‘Marvick’ Edwards?
For unknown reasons, Melverick Edwards signs a second Renunciation of Right to Administration form, again nominating Russell Laffitte as conservator over Hakeem. This time, the only box checked is next to the statement “I agree to waive bond for the person(s) nominated below.”
Again, “personal representative” is crossed off twice on the form and “conservator” is handwritten over top of it.
Edwards’ name and address are typed on the form. His name is crossed out because it was typed onto the page incorrectly (“Marvick Lamar A. Edwards”). His correct name is reprinted in handwriting.
The Hampton County Probate Court employee who stamped ”Filed” on the document leaves the date field blank.
Nov. 15, 2010: Michelin Tries to Get the Case Moved Out of Hampton County
Michelin North America Inc. files a motion to change venue from Hampton County. Six years earlier, the American Tort Reform Association called Hampton County the nation’s “third-worst jurisdiction in the United States for issuing plaintiff-friendly verdicts” and labeled it a Judicial Hellhole.
NOTE: In 2006, a report in the “South Carolina Law Review” characterized the county this way … “Hampton County is notorious throughout South Carolina, and the nation, for its plaintiff-friendly jurors and excessive verdicts. Predictably, plaintiffs frequently search for any potential justification to file their complaint in Hampton County courts. Unfortunately for corporate defendants, plaintiffs have rarely come up empty-handed.”
Jan. 6, 2011: Judge Buckner Says Nope!
Judge Perry Buckner — who many consider to be an ally of the Murdaugh family and PMPED — denies Michelin North America Inc.’s motion for venue change in the Hakeem Pinckney civil case.
Jan. 7, 2011: Shhhhhh!
For unknown reasons, Alex Murdaugh and Ronnie Crosby file a confidentiality order in Hampton County Court in the Hakeem Pinckney civil case. A second confidentiality order is filed in the court a week later.
July 6, 2011: Mediation Fails … This Case Will Go to Trial
Alex Murdaugh and Ronnie Crosby file their mediation results report with Hampton County Court in Hakeem Pinckney’s case, which indicates that the parties were unable to reach a settlement in the case.
July 15, 2011: Russell Laffitte Gives Himself Loan From Client’s Money
Russell Laffitte is serving as conservator for two young sisters, Hannah and Alania Plyler, whose mother and brother were killed in a 2005 car wreck on Interstate 95 in Hampton County. Hannah and Alania are both residents of Lexington County, but — counter to state law — Laffitte uses the Hampton County Probate Court to set up their estates. After their settlement money comes in, Laffitte begins to give himself very low-interest loans from Hannah’s account. In all he takes out eight loans, totaling $355,000. Beginning Sept. 14, 2011, Laffitte allowed Murdaugh to take 14 unsecured, low-interest loans from Hannah’s account, totaling $990,000. Laffitte allowed these loans without Hannah’s knowledge or permission. According to the July 20, 2022, federal indictment of Laffitte, he also never sought probate court approval for these loans, nor did he tell anyone at Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick.
NOTE: Hannah is the youngest of the two sisters and won’t turn 18 for a few more years. On her 18th birthday, Hannah will gain control of the finances Laffitte controls. As such, Laffitte and Murdaugh were on a timeline to pay back the more than $1.3 million they borrowed from her without her permission or knowledge.
On this date, Laffitte takes $225,000 from Hannah’s account. A promissory note filed with the Hampton County Probate Court includes a handwritten note at the bottom with the pay-off date for this loan, which Laffitte gave to himself at a 3.25 percent interest rate. That Jan. 4, 2012, payoff date is one day after Laffitte deposited $75,000 from Hakeem Pinckney’s and Natasha Thomas’ settlements, which he paid to himself for the work he allegedly did as conservator for the two.
NOTE: The 3.25 percent interest rate he gave himself on this date is on the high end of what he typically gave himself in his “loans” from Hannah’s account. His other loans had interest rates of 2.25 percent and 2.50 percent. The interest rates he gave Murdaugh for loans taken from Hannah’s account were between 3 percent and 5 percent. As a source remarked to FITSNews, “The only halfway redeeming thing about Russell Laffitte is that he charged Alex more than he charged himself for the loans.” Still, both men had interest rates far below that of loans Laffitte took from Palmetto State Bank on Alania Plyler’s behalf a few years earlier. Laffitte charged Alania interest rates that were around 20 percent.
July 26, 2011: Russell Laffitte Is Added to the Case
Alex Murdaugh and Ronnie Crosby file an amended complaint in the Hakeem Pinckney civil case, adding Russell Laffitte as Plaintiff.
NOTE: It is not clear whether Hakeem was removed as plaintiff at this time. Either way, the decision put Laffitte in the driver’s seat.
Oct. 5, 2011: Defendant Responds
Budget Tire Inc. files its answers to Alex Murdaugh and Ronnie Crosby’s amended complaint. Michelin North America Inc. has not yet filed its answers, according to the Hampton County Public Index.
Oct. 7, 2011: The Case Settles
Alex Murdaugh and Ronnie Crosby settle Hakeem’s case and his family’s cases, according to the Hampton County Public Index.
Oct. 9, 2011: RIP Hakeem?
A childhood friend of Hakeem Pinckney — who also visited him in the nursing home — posts Hakeem’s graduation photo without an explanation. Four friends comment on the post with messages indicating that Hakeem has died.
NOTE: According to a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Hakeem’s estate three years later, his hospitalization and subsequent death were related to an incident in which his ventilator had become unplugged for more than 30 minutes. The lawsuit and accompanying affidavits do not include any additional information about that incident — such as the date it occurred, whether he was in a coma or for how long.
1 p.m. Oct. 11, 2011: Russell Laffitte Is No Longer Hakeem’s Conservator …
Hakeem Pinckney is pronounced dead of “sudden cardiac arrest” at University Hospital Augusta in Georgia, according to his death certificate.
His case was not referred to a medical examiner. The death certificate states that his death was “natural” and happened within “minutes.” His history of quadriplegia “secondary to MVA” and “chronic respiratory failure” are listed as contributing factors to his death.
The death certificate notes that it is “unknown” whether an autopsy was performed and whether autopsy findings were available to “complete the cause of death.”
This death certificate lists both his mother’s and father’s names, though his father’s first name is misspelled.
Allen Funeral Home of Lobeco is listed on the death certificate as the embalmer.
The death certificate was signed by a Dr. Jitendrakumar Patel on Nov. 7, 2011. It is filed in the registrar’s office on Nov. 29, 2011.
NOTE: At this very minute — at 1 p.m. Oct. 11, 2011 — Russell Laffitte is no longer conservator for Hakeem Pinckney. As such he has no legal right to act on his behalf in any way.
3:15 p.m. Oct. 11, 2011: … But That Doesn’t Seem to Stop Russell
Two hours and 15 minutes after Hakeem Pinckney dies, Russell Laffitte — who is no longer legally able to act on Hakeem Pinckney’s behalf — applies for a “single premium settlement annuity” for Hakeem, that will use a portion of Hakeem’s settlement money.
This multimillion dollar annuity will provide Hakeem with monthly income for 25 years, according to the contract.
Hakeem is listed as the “Measuring Life” on the policy.
NOTE: A “measuring life” is the person whose “life expectancy” is being considered in calculating the annuity. But Hakeem no longer had a life expectancy.
It appears that the application — which was typed — might have had Hakeem Pinckney originally listed as the owner of the annuity and that correction fluid had been used to cover over the name. Laffitte’s name is handwritten over top of the correction fluid. The address below Laffitte’s handwritten name is the address Hakeem lived at before moving to the nursing home in 2009 and next to Laffitte’s name is Hakeem’s Social Security Number.
Laffitte lists himself as the owner of the annuity “FBO” or “for the benefit of” Hakeem Pinckney — even though he had ceased being Hakeem’s conservator two hours and 15 minutes earlier. The “owner” of the annuity “may, while any Measuring Life [Hakeem] is living” — which he isn’t — “exercise all rights given in this contract.”
Laffitte requests that monthly payments start Dec. 11, 2011, and lists himself as the payee, directing MetLife to send the payments to him at Palmetto State Bank in Hampton. The payments won’t start until the premium is paid, though.
NOTE: Again, Laffitte is no longer Hakeem’s conservator. Though, Laffitte was permitted to complete the work he had been doing as conservator prior to Hakeem’s death, he was not allowed to take on new business. Two months after this date, Laffitte filed an inventory on behalf of Hakeem’s estate that would seem to indicate he hadn’t managed any money for Hakeem. A July 20, 2022, federal indictment against Laffitte alleges that he not only never deposited Hakeem’s and Natasha’s money into their conservatorship accounts, he “never managed any of their money.”
In this application, which Laffitte is not legally authorized to complete, Laffitte chooses a beneficiary for Hakeem’s estate, something he is also not allowed to do.
The “Beneficiary after Death of Measuring Life” section includes the instructions to “complete if applicable.” This section should have been completed if Hakeem had a will — he did not — or if Hakeem was designating a beneficiary — and he was not alive to do so.
Laffitte fills out the section and designates Hakeem’s mother as the beneficiary of the policy.
In the definitions section of the contract, the “beneficiary” is who will receive “any remaining annuity payments in the event of the death of the Measuring Life” — which has already happened.
The contract says that the payee or beneficiary may be changed “during the lifetime of the Measuring Life [Hakeem],” who is already dead.
Included in the contract is a section called “Contest,” which states that “after the contract has been in effect during the lifetime of any Measuring Life [Hakeem] for two years from its Date of Issue, we will not use material misstatements made in the application to contest this contract.”
There is also a “Proof of Survival” section of the contract: “If the Contract Specifications page provides for payment of proceeds for so long as the Measuring Life shall live, the Company has the right before each such payment is made to require due proof that the Measuring Life is living on the payment date.”
Laffitte signs the application and, though the form does not ask for the time of the signature nor provide a line for such information, he writes “3:15 p.m.”
NOTE: It is unclear why Laffitte wrote the time on the application, but Hakeem’s death certificate with the official time of death would not be issued for another month. FITSNews has reviewed hundreds of documents related to Laffitte’s role as conservator. The inclusion of a time next to Laffitte’s signature was not seen on any other conservator-related document that FITSNews has reviewed.
Laffitte signed the application in Hampton County.
The “agent of record” signed the form this same day in Hartwell, Georgia, which is where Forge Consulting is located.
NOTE: Less than four years later, Murdaugh would open the first of two bank accounts masquerading as “Forge.” These accounts were allegedly used to funnel client money to him for personal use.
Oct. 12, 2011: ‘He Had Been on Life Support’
A friend of Hakeem Pinckney posts an announcement about Hakeem’s death on Facebook. In the comments another friend says, “He had been on life support but his brain is no good. His family decided to let him go …”
NOTE: Again, it is not clear how long Hakeem was on life support prior to his death. It is also unclear when Murdaugh and Laffitte became aware that the end was near for Hakeem. But this raises questions. For instance, did Laffitte write the time of his signature on the annuity application because he thought the “plug was being pulled” later in the day and wanted to be sure to clear up any potential questions about the timing of the annuity down the road?
Oct. 13, 2011: Funeral Is Held
Hakeem Pinckney’s funeral is held, according to a Facebook post.
Nov. 16, 2011: Hakeem’s ‘Life Expectancy’?
MetLife Insurance issues a contract with Russell Laffitte for the benefit of Hakeem Pinckney … who has been dead for over a month.
“This is a legal contract between you and us,” the contract reads. “Read your contract carefully.”
NOTE: At this point, Laffitte is legally unable to enter into a contract with MetLife because he is no longer conservator of Hakeem Pinckney. Though Hakeem Pinckney is dead, he is listed as the “Measuring Life” on the contract. A measuring life is the person whose “life expectancy” is being considered in calculating the annuity.
The contract reads: “We want to be sure that we have issued this contract correctly. If there is any error, tell us as soon as you can.”
Russell Laffitte is listed as the “payee” for the annuity, which is set to take effect Jan. 18, 2012. Payments for the annuity will start Dec. 11, 2012.
“We will pay a total of 300 payments. If the measuring life dies before 300 payments have been made, the remaining payments will continue to the beneficiary.”
On Sept. 8, 2010, Russell Laffitte and Alex Murdaugh had filed a petition with Hampton County Probate Court indicating that Hakeem did not have a will.
NOTE: Because Hakeem did not have a will at the time of his death — and because he died unmarried and without children — by state law his beneficiaries were his mother, Pamela Pinckney, and his father, Melverick Edwards. At the time, Pamela Pinckney was represented by Murdaugh’s best friend, Cory Fleming. Fleming and Murdaugh would later be indicted for stealing some of her settlement money.
Dec. 6, 2011: Zero Dollars
In his filings to end the conservatorship, Russell Laffitte signs a Conservator Annual Accounting form attesting that the beginning balance of Hakeem Pinckney’s account was $0. Laffitte lists $0 in receipts and $0 in disbursements.
Laffitte’s signature acknowledges that he is declaring “that this account has been examined and that its contents represent a correct statement of all receipts and disbursements and is true to the best knowledge and belief of the conservator.”
NOTE: This would seem to indicate that Laffitte did not handle any transactions for Hakeem during his lifetime. Meaning, if Laffitte entered into the MetLife contract when Hakeem was still alive, it would have been included on this form. A July 20, 2022, federal indictment also confirms that not only did Laffitte not deposit any of Hakeem’s or Natasha’s money into their accounts, he “never managed any money” for them.
Laffitte also signs a “Petition for Discharge” form, asking the court to be relieved of his role as conservator.
The notary portions of the forms are signed and dated by Brenda L. Tuten, but neither document is embossed.
Neither document is filed in Hampton County Probate Court until Dec. 22, 2011.
The “Petition for Discharge” form filed with the Probate Court includes a portion where the time, date and place of a hearing is to be entered, but it is left blank.
Dec. 21, 2011: The First Alleged Theft
Russell Laffitte signs disbursement sheets at Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick and receives two checks: one for $309,581.46 from the Estate of Hakeem Pinckney and $325,000 from Natasha Thomas’ client trust account. The money was intended for their conservator accounts but was never deposited, according to indictments.
According to the July 20, 2022, federal indictment of Russell Laffitte, Laffitte “distributed the funds” at Murdaugh’s direction, as follows:
- $10,000 deposit was made to Maggie Murdaugh’s account.
- $9,500 money order.
- $920.29 principal payment to a loan on Alex Murdaugh’s boat.
- $3,137.30 interest payment to a loan on Alex Murdaugh’s boat.
- $100,000 money order to Laffitte’s father, Charlie Laffitte, to “pay off a personal loan.
- $50,135.61 money order to repay loans from the conservatorship account of Hannah Plyler.
- $91,220.57 money order to repay loans from the conservatorship account of Hannah Plyler.
- $329,500 money order to Murdaugh’s father, Randolph Murdaugh III
- $40,167.69 money order to “repay loans Russell Lucius Laffitte extended as conservator for M.W.”
NOTE: “M.W.” refers to Malik Williams. Laffitte served as conservator to Williams, who was a client of Paul Detrick, a partner at Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick in a 2004 case. According to the indictment, Laffitte gave himself a loan from Malik’s account. The details of Malik’s case are not known. Laffitte was also the conservator to two young sisters, Hannah and Alania Plyler, whose mother and brother were killed in a 2005 crash on Interstate 95 in Hampton County. Both girls were injured in the crash. Murdaugh served as their attorney. Earlier this year, it became clear that Laffitte had secretly loaned himself and Murdaugh money at below-market interest rates from Hannah Plyler’s account, which he managed. According to the July 20, 2022, federal indictment, beginning on July 18, 2011, Laffitte took eight loans from Hannah’s account, totaling $355,000. Beginning Sept. 14, 2011, Laffitte allowed Murdaugh to take 14 unsecured loans from Hannah’s account, totaling $990,000.
Jan. 3, 2012: Russell Laffitte Pays Himself $75,000
Russell Laffitte collects a $60,000 fee as conservator for Hakeem Pinckney and a $15,000 fee as conservator for Natasha Thomas, according to the July 20, 2022, federal indictment.
Jan. 4, 2012: Russell Laffitte Has Left the Scene
The day after Russell Laffitte deposited $75,000 from Hakeem Pinckney’s and Natasha Thomas’ settlement money into his personal account, he is formally dismissed as conservator for Hakeem Pinckney by Hampton County Probate Judge Sheila B. Odom, who issues an order that says:
“Upon the consideration of the petition for Discharge of the Guardian/Conservator, it appears that the allegations and statement in the Petition are true and correct; that all required notices have been given; that the ward’s/protected person’s custody and/or this estate has been administered according to the laws of South Carolina and the Orders of this Court; that the Guardianship/Conservatorship should be terminated.”
Two boxes are checked on the signed order. The first states “that the final account is accepted as filed.” The second is “that the Guardian/Conservator is released and discharged as the Guardian/Conservator, and any and all liability arising in connection with the performance of those duties and the administration of the estate to be closed.”
The associated probate docket sheet asks for attorney information but it is left blank.
On this same day, Laffitte uses the $75,000 he deposited into his personal account to pay off a portion of the loans he took out of Hannah Plyler’s conservatorship account.
The July 20, 2022, federal indictment says in ending the conservatorships of Hakeem and Natasha, Laffitte signed documents representing to the court that Natasha and Hakeem were 18, the age when conservatorships generally terminate. At the time, Natasha was 15 and Hakeem had died at age 21.
NOTE: This raises questions about Laffitte’s motive in serving as conservator for Murdaugh’s clients. If a conservatorship were truly necessary in Natasha’s case, for instance, why then was it terminated immediately after her settlement money came through and Laffitte received his payment? In essence, Laffitte became conservator for Hakeem and Natasha when there was no money or assets to manage on their behalf. His conservatorship for Hakeem was terminated upon Hakeem’s death, but Laffitte terminated Natasha’s conservatorship three years early and at the exact moment when his services might actually be needed.
Jan. 30, 2012: “Protect Your Financial Future”
Jake Duvall of Forge Consulting LLC in Hartwell, Georgia, sends a letter to Pamela Pinckney: “We appreciate the opportunity to assist with the completion of your recent settlement plans … Forge Consulting will remain available to answer any questions about your annuity policy as well as help protect your financial future.”
“R. Alexander Murdaugh, Esq.” is CC’d on the letter.
NOTE: This would indicate that the settlement agencies are now aware that Hakeem Pinckney died.
Feb. 23, 2012: Case Closed
Alex Murdaugh and Ronnie Crosby file a stipulation of dismissal with Hampton County Court in Hakeem Pinckney’s and Natasha Thomas’ civil cases.
June 24-25, 2012: High Rollers
Alex Murdaugh, Cory Fleming and Bamberg attorney Chris Wilson take a private plane to Omaha, Nebraska, to watch the University of South Carolina men’s baseball team compete in the final matchup of the College World Series.
NOTE: This flight was paid for with money allegedly stolen from Pamela Pinckney.
Aug. 21, 2012: Pamela Pinckney’s Money
Cory Fleming held on to $350,000 of Pamela Pinckney’s money to satisfy a lien from Medicaid, which ended up being $219,807.73. Fleming did not return the remaining $130,192.27 to Pamela, according to an April indictment. From that money, he allegedly used $6,490 and $1,588.46 to pay for the plane to Omaha, Nebraska the month before.
Aug. 29, 2012: More Alleged Theft
Alex Murdaugh allegedly takes $25,245.08 of Natasha Thomas’ money and has a check made out to Palmetto State Bank from Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick’s Client Trust Account.
According to the July 20, 2022, federal indictment, Russell Laffitte, who is no longer conservator of Natasha, “negotiated the settlement funds” as follows:
- $9,000 cashed out by an unknown person.
- $16,245.08 money order payable to Palmetto State Bank.
- $9,000 money order cashed by an unknown person.
- $7,245.08 money order cashed by an unknown person.
Feb. 25, 2013: Walker & Morgan Law Firm and Hakeem’s Father
Attorneys William Walker and Kirk Morgan of Walker & Morgan law firm in Lexington enter into a contingency fee agreement with Hakeem’s father, Melverick Edwards, and Hakeem’s uncle, Tyrone Edwards. The attorneys are hired to represent the two brothers “in connection with claims relating to assertions of rights to any and all monies obtained on behalf of Hakeem Pinckney, Deceased.”
If Walker successfully obtains a settlement, he will get 25 percent of that money.
NOTE: It is unclear when or how Melverick Edwards and his brother became aware that Melverick had been left out of Hakeem Pinckney’s estate. Melverick Edwards suffers from schizophrenia and, at the time, was in and out of mental institutions. It is also unclear how Tyrone Edwards decided to hire the Walker Morgan law firm. Four years later, the Walker Morgan law firm and Moss, Kuhn and Fleming law firm would be sued in Beaufort County by the father of a woman killed in a fire. The man accused the two firms of working together to deprive him of his legal right to 50 percent of his daughter’s estate.
July 12, 2013: Power of Attorney
Melverick Edwards designates his brother, Tyrone Edwards, to serve as his “attorney in fact and agent” and signs a General Durable Power of Attorney in Richland County.
The Power of Attorney document repeatedly refers to Melverick as “her” on the signature page. In addition, someone has scratched out “Lexington” and written “Richland” over top and scratched out the name of the witness to replace it with the name “Disha Dave.”
Dave attests to seeing Melverick Edwards sign, seal and deliver the Power of Attorney and that the notary also witnessed this. The notary signs, but does not emboss the document.
To read the full power of attorney agreement, click here.
March 27, 2014: The Other Conservatorship
Alex Murdaugh is concerned that Hannah Plyler‘s 18th birthday is approaching. When she turns 18, Hannah — a client of Murdaugh — will get control of her settlement money, over which Russell Laffitte has served as conservator. This presents a problem for Murdaugh because over the past several years, he and Laffitte have been using Hannah’s account as a piggy bank from which to take unsanctioned personal loans.
According to the July 20, 2022, federal indictment against him, Laffitte took out a personal loan from a third-party to pay off his part of the loans taken out of Hannah’s account and he is continuing to pay off that loan today.
April 14, 2014: “Time Is of the Essence”
Will Walker sends an email to Alex Murdaugh with the subject “Melverick Edwards,” indicating that Edwards has settled his claim against his son’s multimillion-dollar estate — of which he was statutorily entitled to half of — for $346,620.69.
In the email, Walker lays out the “central issues” that should be included in the settlement agreement and tells Murdaugh to “feel free” to change the language.
“I should mention that time is of the essence on this,” Walker writes. “Melverick’s brother, Tyrone Edwards, has power of attorney to make financial decisions on behalf of Melverick at this time. However, Melverick will be released from the mental health facility in the very near future which may complicate this settlement considerably if Melverick decides to revoke the power of attorney upon his release. As it stands now, Tyrone has explained the terms of the settlement to Melverick in great detail and Melverick remains in agreement.”
NOTE: Though Will Walker asserts that Melverick Edwards ”remains in agreement” with the settlement amount, his note about the need for urgency due to Edwards’ release from a mental facility obviously raises questions.
April 23, 2014
Melverick Edwards’ brother Tyrone Edwards, who is his power of attorney, signs the “full, final and complete” release of $346,620.69 in settlement money on behalf of Melverick.
By signing the document, Tyrone is waiving “all rights to all claims [Melverick] may have to any remaining assets of the Estate of Hakeem Pinckney.”
Tyrone also releases and “forever” discharges Hakeem’s estate, Pamela Pinckney and Russell Laffitte as conservator from any future legal action.
Hakeem didn’t receive any money while Laffitte was conservator, which is exactly what Laffitte told the court on Dec. 22, 2011, when he filed his final accounting of Hakeem’s estate.
So why is Laffitte included in this agreement?
Here’s why …
Tyrone also agrees that Melverick won’t challenge the “decision of the Conservator” in naming Pamela Pinckney “as the sole beneficiary of the MetLife Annuity upon the death of Hakeem Pinckney, the measuring life.”
“Furthermore, Melverick Edwards releases the Estate of Hakeem Pinckney, [Pamela] Pinckney and Russell Laffitte, the Conservator for Hakeem Pinckney, from any and all claims he may have in his individual capacity regarding any and all remaining funds in the MetLife annuity.”
The agreement also prevents Melverick Edwards from petitioning Probate Court to be appointed as personal representative for Hakeem’s estate and prevents him from pursuing any wrongful death/survival claim on behalf of Hakeem’s estate. Tyrone also signs away Melverick’s claim to any settlement that might come about from a wrongful death lawsuit.
NOTE: Melverick Edwards recently hired Columbia attorney Eric Bland of Bland Richter law firm to represent him in this case. Bland and his partner Ronnie Richter represent the Satterfield family, the Plyler sisters and other victims in the Alex Murdaugh case. State Rep. Justin Bamberg represents Pamela Pinckney and Natasha Thomas and is helping them recoup the money that Murdaugh, Laffitte and Fleming allegedly stole from them.
March 27, 2017
Cory Fleming allegedly takes $4,560 of Pamela Pinckney’s money — money she didn’t realize he had held back from her — and gives it to Alex Murdaugh, for nonexistent expenses related to Pamela’s case.
May 16, 2017
Cory Fleming allegedly has a check for $89,133.44 written to Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick from Pamela Pinckney’s money — money she didn’t realize Fleming had held back from her.
Alex Murdaugh then allegedly has a check with the description “Est. of Hakeem L. Pinckney” for that same amount be written from PMPED’s client trust account to “Forge” — the account Murdaugh allegedly created at Bank of America to mimic the name of the legitimate Forge Consulting.
Murdaugh allegedly converted the money to cash, bank fees and checks that he wrote to himself and his associates.
July 26, 2019
The Independent Banks of South Carolina names Russell Laffitte — then the executive Vice President and chief operating officer of Palmetto State Bank — “Independent Banker of the Year” at the 55th IBSC annual convention held at The Greenbrier.
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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