Attorneys for the Mexican national who sued convicted killer Alex Murdaugh and convicted fraudster Russell Laffitte – along with their former employers – say they will seek to amend their pleadings to allege a “criminal enterprise between the law firm and the bank” where Murdaugh and Laffitte used to work.
As this news outlet previously reported, Manuel Santis-Cristiani – a former client of Murdaugh and the Hampton, South Carolina-based law firm formerly known as Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick (PMPED) – sued the firm and its former attorneys, Ronnie Crosby and William F. Barnes III, last fall.
Court filings in the case have sought to paint a picture of how Murdaugh – who is staring down more than 100 state fraud charges and nearly two dozen federal fraud charges – was able to get away with so much for so long.
The latest responses to interrogatories filed in Santis-Cristiani’s case seek to refocus the blame for the Murdaugh/ Laffitte financial crimes to include the institutions that employed them as having been complicit in their schemes. To date, only Murdaugh, Laffitte and Beaufort, S.C. attorney Cory Fleming have been charged for their part in the financial crimes. Laffitte was found guilty in federal court in November 2022 and will be sentenced this week. Fleming pleaded guilty to one count in federal court and a trial on state charges is scheduled for September. Murdaugh, who was convicted of murder in March, is awaiting prosecution of the additional state and federal charges against him.
But were they the only ones involved in the fleecing of millions of dollars from Murdaugh’s former clients, friends, family members and others?
AN ALLEGED MISAPPROPRIATION …
The bad faith lawsuit filed in October 2022 is based on the belief Santis-Cristiani – a resident of Chiapas, Mexico – was not paid all he was owed after Murdaugh and PMPED negotiated the outcome of a product liability lawsuit on his behalf following a 2008 motor vehicle accident in Colleton County. Murdaugh housekeeper Blanca Simpson acted as translator during mediation in this case – and was present at the bank on November 15, 2016 when Russell Laffitte wired its settlement funds to Santis-Cristiani.
According to court filings, on that day Simpson noticed a discrepancy between the amount of funds noted in the settlement agreement and the amount paid to Santis-Cristiani.
The civil suit filed on Santis-Cristiani’s behalf has already revealed $70,000 in unappropriated settlement proceeds. This money was supposed to be paid to the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) for the medical care Santis-Cristiani received following the accident. These funds were not disbursed until recently, however, when the law firm formerly know as PMPED placed the money in escrow pending the resolution of the matter.
Based on the testimony of law firm and bank associates in the Laffitte and Murdaugh trials – and evidence that surfaced during discovery – Santis-Cristiani’s attorneys Glenn Walters and Korey Williams concluded PMPED and Palmetto State Bank were instrumental in the alleged fraud. Specifically, they insist statements in which the defendants admitted Murdaugh stole a portion of the settlement funds were “statements against self-interest” which revealed their own culpability.
“PMDED law was organized as a partnership,” Walters and Williams wrote in one of two new pleadings (.pdf) in the case. “All partners are therefore vicariously liable for the tortious conduct of its partner, Richard Alexander Murdaugh.”
(Click to view)
SETTLEMENT DETAILS UNKNOWN …
Santis-Cristiani is not certain how much money he received from the settlement – or how much he was owed, according to the filings. He does not necessarily agree to the amount of approximately $74,000 the firm claims he was wired in 2016. Further, he does not believe the 2016 payout represented the final amount recovered – and expected future payments.
Santis-Cristiani traveled to Hampton County in March 2012 to participate in the mediation process. Before returning to his home in Mexico, Murdaugh asked him to sign a power of attorney granting Russell Laffitte the authority to handle his remaining business with regards to the settlement.
Years later, the settlement funds were deposited with Palmetto State Bank and at least a portion of them were wired to Santis-Cristiani. Within the text of the court filings, it is noted Santis-Cristiani has questions about a PMPED check made out to Forge Consulting and whether additional settlement funds intended for him were routed into the personal account of Murdaugh.
Also, the power of attorney granted to Laffitte is not on file with either the Colleton or Hampton County clerks of court. These documents indicate it is in the possession of the law firm now known as the Parker Law Group.
PARTNERS IN CRIME?
Santis-Cristiani’s attorneys say the bank’s involvement in this alleged conspiracy was proven in testimony given by Norris Laffitte in the November 2022 federal criminal trial of Russell Laffitte.
“His testimony will establish that Russell Laffitte started the conspiracy with Richard Alex Murdaugh as far back as 2013, and everything started to unravel in 2021 after the firm discovered Murdaugh’s fraudulent scheme,” the second filing (.pdf) noted. “For over eight years, the bank officials – especially its board – failed to detect that Russell Laffitte was violating bank policies and procedures as it relates to Richard Alexander Murdaugh’s bank dealings. Russell Laffitte facilitated Murdaugh’s theft of the (Santis-Cristiani)’s funds, and he breached the fiduciary duty as fostered by the POA that he held on behalf of the plaintiff.”
The filing further calls out PMPED, Crosby and Barnes – seeking to hold them liable for failing to identify the thefts taking place within their own firm.
“It took over ten years for the PMPED firm, Crosby and Barnes to discover that Richard Alexander Murdaugh was stealing client’s funds, and this discovery was made only because of external investigations,” the filing alleged. “Santis-Cristiani’s $70,000.00 was stolen in or about 2016. There is a requirement for PMPED, Crosby, and Barnes to reconcile their trust accounts on a monthly basis. They failed to carry out this reconciliation and didn’t even discover that the funds were stolen until 2021 or thereabout. This inaction aided and abetted Palmetto and Lafitte to breach their fiduciary obligation owed to the Plaintiff. As a matter of fact, had PMPED and its attorney, Murdaugh, Crosby, and Barnes, reconciled their trust account in 2011 they would have discovered that Murdaugh was stealing funds.”
While the original complaint suggested the involvement of additional unnamed parties in the conspiracy, this document names them – most notably Johnny Parker, the leader of the law firm which rose from the ashes of this scandal.
“The facts will show that Johnny Parker was receiving payments from Russell Laffitte that was part of the criminal conspiracy between Richard Alexander Murdaugh,” the pleading alleged. “He received at least two payments from the stolen money. This conduct facilitates the criminal conspiracy between Richard Alexander Murdaugh and Russell Laffitte. Johnny Parker is a significant member of PMPED. His conduct of receiving stolen funds from the criminal conspiracy is imputed to PMPED, and such conduct aided and abetted Defendants’ breach of their fiduciary duties.”
The filing says Murdaugh’s father – Randolph Murdaugh III – also received “large financial payouts” from Laffitte, and the identification of alleged co-conspirators doesn’t stop there. Citing court transcripts, case filings, and media reports, Walters and Williams also named: Maggie Murdaugh, Buster Murdaugh, Chris Wilson, unknown board members of Palmetto State Bank and all of the attorneys of PMPED during the relevant time period.
A NEW ADDRESS …
Another unexpected gem was unearthed in the pages of the most recent filings in this case. Both contained a new, previously unreported address for Murdaugh – signaling he is likely in communication with plaintiff’s counsel and has been transferred again within the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC) prison system. This new location would mark the third state correctional facility to house Murdaugh since his sentencing in March. Officially, SCDC inmate records classify his location as “undisclosed.”
THE PLEADINGS …
(Via: S.C. Fourteenth Judicial Circuit)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher, and author whose investigative work can be found in media outlets, publications, and documentaries all over the world – most recently in the Parisian newspaper Le Monde and a German documentary for ProSieben. Lyons also appears in Citizen Sleuth – a 2023 documentary exploring the genre of true crime.
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