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Prosecutors Get Aggressive As Russell Laffitte Prepares To Learn His Fate

U.S. attorney’s office: Disgraced banker refuses “to accept any responsibility for his actions or acknowledge the harm his actions have inflicted on the victims.”

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I am admittedly of multiple minds about last fall’s conviction of South Carolina fraudster/ disgraced banker Russell Laffitte. In November, Laffitte -a 52-year-old Hampton, S.C. native – was found guilty of conspiracy, bank fraud, wire fraud and three counts of misapplying bank funds in connection with his role in the various financial schemes of convicted killer Alex Murdaugh.

The case against Laffitte – made by lead federal prosecutor Emily Limehouse with support from assistant U.S. attorneys Winston Holliday and Kathleen Stoughton – was damning. Open and shut. And it was masterfully executed by the prosecution team.

The former chief executive officer of Palmetto State Bank (PSB), Laffitte clearly profited from helping Murdaugh rip off multiple clients – and then helped Murdaugh cover his tracks with loans that never should have been issued and payouts that never should have been made.

Millions of dollars were involved in these scams … which unfolded over a span of nearly a decade.

During the trial, jurors were bombarded with checks, bank statements, wire transfers and other documents detailing Laffitte’s pivotal role in Murdaugh’s fleecings. They also heard from a litany of witnesses – many of whom were Laffitte’s family members – detailing the duplicity behind these transactions.

Meanwhile, much of the pre-trial spin from Laffitte’s allies failed to materialize … although some of that was owing to pre-trial rulings limiting the ability of his attorneys to cast blame beyond their client. Additionally, Laffitte’s pre-trial (and mid-trial) bids to gin up positive publicity for himself failed to move the needle in any meaningful fashion.

By trial’s end, there was zero doubt in any rational mind as to Laffitte’s guilt – with no broader conspiracy capable of making him the “pawn” he claimed to be.

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Having said that, Laffitte’s bid for a new trial was not without some merit. There is no denying U.S. district court judge Richard Gergel replaced two jurors at the eleventh hour during a pivotal point in their negotiations – in what can charitably be described as an unusually brusque manner. There can also be no denying Gergel’s own extracurricular scheduling contributed to the pre-Thanksgiving time crunch this jury was under.

Justice shouldn’t have been rushed in this case … but it was.

Moments before being replaced, one of the jurors submitted a note to Gergel indicating they were “feeling pressured to change (their) vote.” This same juror indicated they were on a time crunch of their own – needing to take an antibiotic medication within two hours of messaging the judge.

Rather than allow deliberations to continue the following day so this juror could take their medicine, Gergel informed prosecutors and defense attorneys his “instinct is that we have alternates and we should get to a verdict.”

After replacing the two jurors, the guilty verdicts were rendered almost immediately.

To be clear: I have never doubted Laffitte’s guilt – nor have I ever doubted that it was proved beyond all reasonable doubt by prosecutors. But I have been critical of Gergel’s jury juggling (and his refusal to reconsider his decision).

Now, Laffitte is days away from being sentenced. As we previously reported, he will appear before Gergel on Tuesday, August 1, 2023 at the U.S. district courthouse in Charleston, S.C. to learn his fate.

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RELATED | ALEX MURDAUGH’S DOUBLE HOMICIDE APPEAL DELAYED AGAIN

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How much federal time is Laffitte facing? Well, if you go by the letter of the law (a.k.a. the United States Code), Laffitte is staring down nearly two centuries behind bars. Contrary to certain podcast pronouncements, though, that’s not the way the federal system works. In the vast majority of white collar federal cases, prison time is doled out based on a recommended sentence tied to the most serious charge a defendant is found guilty of committing – with the sentences of the other charges usually served concurrently.

The six charges Laffitte is currently staring down carry a prison sentence of up to thirty (30) years apiece, which means the disgraced banker is realistically facing a maximum of three decades behind bars. Sources familiar with the federal sentencing process told this news outlet last fall they expected Laffitte to receive between eight to 14 years in a federal penitentiary.

Our sources were correct. According to a pre-sentencing memo (.pdf) filed by prosecutors this week, the advisory guideline for Laffitte is a sentence of between 108 to 137 months (or between 9 to 11.5 years).

Laffitte may get more time, though, as prosecutors made it clear in their memo they believe he has consistently fought to evade accountability for his actions – including arguing against the recommended sentencing guidelines.

“(Laffitte) has objected to nearly every aspect of the pre-sentencing report, reflecting a continued unwillingness to accept any responsibility for his actions or acknowledge the harm his actions have inflicted on the victims,” lead prosecutor Limehouse wrote.

(Click to View)

Assistant U.S. attorneys Emily Limehouse and Winston Holliday speak to reporters outside the Charleston, S.C. federal courthouse on November 22, 2022. (Dylan Nolan/ FITSNews)

“(Laffitte) committed serious crimes that undermine the public’s trust in the judicial and banking systems,” Limehouse added. “It is important that the judicial system respond in kind and punish these crimes severely to promote respect for the law, provide just punishment, and afford adequate deterrence to others in positions of power and trust who are given the opportunity to exploit vulnerable victims.”

Limehouse further noted how Laffitte and Murdaugh “executed a highly complex and sophisticated scheme that spanned more than eight years and involved the fraud and deceit of numerous vulnerable individuals, the court, law partners, and family members.”

She also called Laffitte out for his two-part YouTube interview – accusing him of engaging in behavior “immediately before and during the trial” which demonstrated “a disrespect toward the judicial system and the integrity of the process.”

“On the outtakes of that YouTube interview, (Laffitte) explained that he wanted to do the interview to dispel the public narrative surrounding the case in the media because he was concerned that the jurors would have already formed an opinion before the trial,” Limehouse wrote. “The government believes (Laffitte) released these YouTube interviews during trial, promoting his lies and false narratives, with the hope that his message may reach jurors.”

In addition to all of this working against him, Laffitte had a deal with feds prior to the trial – which he reneged on.

(Click to View)

Russell Laffitte heads to federal court during his trial on November 22, 2022. (Dylan Nolan/ FITSNews)

As we previously reported, Laffitte reached an agreement with the federal government to testify in future prosecutions related to this ongoing investigation. That deal collapsed, though, when Laffitte balked at the estimated 4-5 years in prison prosecutors were insisting upon.

Now he stands to serve more than twice that amount of time – at least.

In addition to his federal convictions, Laffitte is facing more than twenty state charges related to the Murdaugh saga. As for Murdaugh himself, he was criminally charged by the feds in late May of this year, sparking an ongoing battle between state and federal prosecutors over the disposition of the financial charges against him, Laffitte and another alleged co-conspirator, Cory Fleming – a former attorney from Beaufort, S.C.

Fleming has reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. He is set to stand trial on those charges in September of this year, while Murdaugh is reportedly set to stand trial the following month.

Murdaugh admitted to most of the financial schemes involving Laffitte when he testified in his own defense in February at his double homicide trial in Colleton County, S.C. A jury found Murdaugh guilty of murdering his wife and younger son on March 2, 2023 – and he was sentenced the following day to two consecutive life terms in prison by judge Clifton Newman.

Count on this news outlet to update our audience as soon as Laffitte receives his sentence next Tuesday …

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THE MEMO …

(Via: U.S. District Court)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR ...

Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

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.

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