Convicted fraudster Russell Laffitte has added a pair of new attorneys to his defense team as he seeks a new trial in federal court.
Laffitte, 51, of Hampton, S.C. was the former chief executive officer of Palmetto State Bank (PSB). On November 22, 2022, he was found guilty of bank fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy and misapplying bank funds related to his role in the alleged financial scams of disbarred lawyer/ accused killer Alex Murdaugh. Specifically, a jury determined that Laffitte profited by helping Murdaugh rip off his clients – and then helped him cover his tracks with loans that never should have been issued and payouts that never should have been made.
In addition to the federal convictions – which could land him behind bars for up to thirty years – Laffitte is also facing more than twenty state charges related to the Murdaugh saga.
Laffitte’s lawyers – Bart Daniel and Matt Austin – moved for a new trial last month based on some questionable eleventh hour jury reshuffling by U.S. district court judge Richard Gergel. According to a filing (.pdf) submitted earlier this month, the attorneys claimed two jurors were “improperly dismissed” by Gergel.
Moments before being replaced, one of the jurors submitted a note to Gergel indicating they were “feeling pressured to change (their) vote.”
As Laffitte prepares to argue for a new trial based in large part on the jury issue, he has retained attorneys Mark Moore and Michael Parente of the Nexsen Pruet law firm to serve as his lead counselors. Moore, incidentally, is one of the attorneys of record in a Murdaugh-related civil case – working on behalf of Savannah, Georgia convenience store czar Greg Parker.
It is not immediately clear how his representation of Laffitte is not a conflict.
News of Laffitte’s new hires was first reported by John Monk of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper.
“There was no word on what role, if any, Laffitte’s previous lawyers … would play from now on,” Monk noted, referring to Daniel and Austin.
Sources familiar with the case told me Moore and Parente were brought on because Laffitte’s request for a new trial represents a direct challenge of Gergel’s judgment in the jury matter – and that it made sense to have a lawyer who wasn’t directly involved in those proceedings take the lead.
This news outlet addressed the jury drama extensively in our recap of the Laffitte verdicts. Days after the trial, a transcript (.pdf) was released documenting the jurors’ removal – or at least the discussion of it that took place in open court.
What transpired behind closed doors, though?
Since filing their motion for a new trial, Laffitte’s lawyers have filed subsequent motions to seal three affidavits – two from jurors “improperly” removed by Gergel and one from the foreperson of the jury which ultimately convicted him.
Sources familiar with the first two affidavits say they detailed the “chaos” which overtook the jury’s deliberations – including alleged bullying on the part of certain jury members against two most vocal holdouts against convicting Laffitte.
“Obviously, firsthand accounts from these two jurors citing pressure to change their votes would be critical components of Laffitte’s bid for a new trial,” I noted last week. “But an affidavit from the jury foreperson affirming these accounts – or at the very least raising questions about the process by which they were removed – could prove even more decisive.”
It is not immediately clear what the foreperson’s affidavit would stipulate, but sources familiar with the document say the individual – who voted to convict Laffitte – was “upset with how it all went down.”
Gergel has yet to schedule a hearing on Laffitte’s request for a new trial … as soon as he does, count on this news outlet to update our audience with that information.
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 an incredible hat collection including that Tampa Bay Rays sunburst batting practice lid.
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