Last week, disgraced banker Russell Laffitte of Hampton, South Carolina was on the offensive. A key cog in the alleged criminal empire of accused killer/ disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh, Laffitte’s case was stoking speculation that prosecutors at both the state and federal level may have left stones unturned in their ongoing inquiries into Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes.
And in fairness, they may have …
To read my extensive report on all that, click here.
This week, federal prosecutors moved to reclaim the initiative against Laffitte – filing a motion which slammed the former banker for “misrepresentations” which led to the errors in their original indictments against him.
This isn’t the first time the feds have accused Laffitte of lying to them, either. As I reported a month ago, federal prosecutors claimed Laffitte was “in breach of his proffer agreement” with the government.
A “proffer” in a criminal case is essentially an invitation to negotiation made by attorneys representing a defendant in (or target of) an investigation. The goal of a “proffer?” To obtain valuable information in the defendant’s possession – and secure their testimony in court – in exchange for a reduced sentence or other considerations.
As of this writing, Laffitte remains the only person charged at the federal level in connection with the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga – a still unspooling web of alleged criminality tied to Alex Murdaugh, the scion of a powerful South Carolina family which for decades enjoyed near dictatorial control of a five-county region in the Palmetto Lowcountry.
Three generations of Murdaughs held the post of solicitor in this region from 1920-2006, during which time corruption appears to have been an integral part of the family business. Murdaugh was also a badge carrying assistant in the office of current fourteenth circuit solicitor Duffie Stone – whose failure to recuse himself from the murder investigation of his former employee has complicated that ongoing investigation.
While the double homicide case against Murdaugh continues to attract the most headlines, the financial crimes inquiry is the one which could wind up guaranteeing that the 54-year-old never sees the outside of a prison facility again as long as he lives. Again, Murdaugh is also staring down drug charges, obstruction of justice allegations and fraud charges. And beyond that, there is a huge public corruption investigation focused on the network which supposedly facilitated his many machinations.
All of this is just at the state level, too …
As the Laffitte case is making clear, the feds are very much playing a role in the saga.
Laffitte was fired from his position as chief executive officer of Palmetto State Bank (PSB) back in January. Three months later, he was indicted by state prosecutors on multiple criminal conspiracy charges in connection with his alleged role in the various Murdaugh-related fleecings. In late July, Laffitte was hit with a five-count federal indictment alleging bank fraud, wire fraud, misapplication of bank funds and conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud.
As of this writing, he remains the only person indicted at the federal level in connection with Alex Murdaugh’s alleged multi-faceted criminality.
Additional federal charges were filed against the 51-year-old Hampton, S.C. native in mid-August. Meanwhile, the most recent federal indictments (.pdf) filed against Laffitte late last month clarified those charges – correcting errors which federal prosecutors insist were attributable to Laffitte’s own dishonesty.
“After presentment of the (first) superseding Indictment, the government learned through witness interviews that statements in the superseding indictment, which were based on Laffitte’s own sworn misrepresentations to the probate court, were inaccurate,” assistant U.S. attorneys Emily Limehouse, Winston D. Holliday Jr. and Kathleen Michelle Stoughton wrote in their latest filing (.pdf) related to Laffitte’s case.
Specifically, prosecutors accused Laffitte of lying on a Hampton County probate filing (.pdf) about the age of one of the alleged victims of Murdaugh’s fleecings – Natasha Thomas. Although Thomas was two weeks shy of her eighteenth birthday at the time Laffitte filled out the form, he claimed she was fifteen years of age – which enabled him to serve as her conservator.
(Click to view)78-1
(Via: U.S. District Court)
Thomas was the cousin of Hakeem Pinckney of Yemassee, S.C. – the deaf athlete who sustained catastrophic injuries during an August 22, 2009 car crash on Interstate 95 in Hampton County. Picnkney’s mother, Pamela Pinckney, and his sister, Shaquarah Pinckney, were injured in the crash as well – as was Thomas.
Alex Murdaugh filed a lawsuit on Thomas’ behalf related to this crash in October of 2010, and Laffitte was installed as her conservator – although he never should have been in that position.
Prosecutors discovered this after filing their original indictments against Laffitte back in July.
“In furtherance of his scheme to defraud, Laffitte was appointed to serve as conservator for (Murdaugh)’s personal injury clients, including (Thomas),” prosecutors alleged. “The (original) indictments erroneously alleged that when Laffitte signed documents to close out (Thomas)’s conservatorship, he stated that she was eighteen years old, but she was only fifteen years old at the time.”
According to prosecutors, Thomas “turned eighteen a mere fifteen days after Laffitte signed the conservatorship petition, which represented that (she) was fifteen years old.”
Laffitte admitted to the deception at a recent bond reconsideration hearing under withering questioning from Limehouse.
“The significance of that misrepresentation to the court is that had you been truthful about her age, you would not have been appointed to serve as a conservator because she was eighteen years old,” Limehouse grilled Laffitte. “You had a duty – you owe a duty to Natasha Thomas, not to Alex Murdaugh. You owe a duty to Natasha Thomas.”
“I do,” Laffitte acknowledged.
He did not perform that duty, though, according to Limehouse.
(Click to view)78-2
(Via: U.S. District Court)
“You did what Alex Murdaugh needed you to do so that he could steal her money, and you collected fees to do so?” Limehouse asked Laffitte.
“No ma’am,” Laffitte responded. “I didn’t collect fees. I did not in any way, shape, or form do anything to assist Alex Murdaugh to steal from her.”
Actually, Laffitte did collect a $15,000 fee to serve as Thomas’ conservator, according to the latest federal indictments. And he further acknowledged under oath that his deception on the probate form is what enabled Murdaugh to allegedly take advantage of Thomas.
“Had you not lied to the court for Alex Murdaugh, he would not have been able to steal the money because you would not be the conservator?” Limehouse asked
“He would not have been able to steal it – I will agree with that,” Laffitte admitted. “But I did not do it intentionally. I did not know.”
According to Laffitte, when Murdaugh came to the bank he would say “‘look, I need this’ and we would do it.”
“So you just didn’t ask any questions?” Limehouse asked.
“No, no, very rarely,” Laffitte responded.
As I noted in my original treatment of the latest Laffitte gambit, “I have zero doubts whatsoever that Laffitte and his attorneys are doing whatever is humanly possible to try and cover his ass and shift blame for his conduct onto others.” Among the “others” in Laffitte’s crosshairs? Members of the disgraced banker’s own family who served with him on the executive committee at PSB as well as fellow employees of Murdaugh at the law firm formerly known as Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth and Detrick (PMPED).
Do they deserve to shoulder some of the blame, though?
We shall see …
For now, though, federal prosecutors are making it abundantly clear that any “errors” in the original indictments against Laffitte are due to his own mistruths – and that attempts by his attorneys to toss those indictments as a result are destined to fail.
THE FILING …78-main
(Via: U.S. District Court)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has many hats – including that St. Louis Cardinals’ lid (with matching Stan Musial jersey) pictured above.
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