Alex Murdaugh associate Russell Laffitte is denied new trial over financial fraud charges

Alex Murdaugh’s associate Russell Laffitte has been denied a new trial on charges that he helped the convicted killer and financial fraudster steal millions from his law firm clients.

US District Judge Richard Gergel denied Laffitte’s request for a new trial on Monday – four days after Murdaugh was found guilty of killing his wife Maggie and son Paul in a brutal double murder which prosecutors said was motivated by the disgraced attorney’s efforts to cover up his string of financial crimes.

Laffitte, the former CEO of Palmetto State Bank, was convicted in November of financial fraud charges in connection to Murdaugh’s alleged white collar fraud schemes.

His conviction came on the basis that he was Murdaugh’s co-defendant in his sprawling multi-million-dollar – and decade-long – schemes.

Following his conviction, Laffitte fired his legal team and filed a motion for a new trial based on the chaotic end to his trial which saw two jurors replaced in the 11th hour.

The two female jurors were excused and replaced with alternates after the panel had spent nine hours deliberating the verdict.

One of the jurors needed to stand down because she needed to take her time-sensitive medication while the second was experiencing severe anxiety and was unable to continue performing her duties.

In the motion, Laffitte’s new legal team argued that these two jurors were holding out against reaching a unanimous guilty verdict and – when dismissed – the panel convicted him in less than an hour.

The legal team also requested a new trial on four other grounds including the validity of the guilty verdict and that Laffitte’s attorneys were ineffective.

But the request was denied by Judge Gergel who, in the ruling, called the claims “wholly without merit”.

“Defendant does not get a ‘do over’ by replacing his first trial team with a new set of lawyers when he was not able to obtain the results he desired,” the judge wrote.

The judge also denied motions for an acquittal and an evidentiary hearing.

The disgraced banker is awaiting sentencing after he was convicted of six federal charges including bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy back in November. He is facing up to 30 years in prison on the charges.

During his trial, Laffitte admitted that he played a part in Murdaugh’s vast financial fraud schemes – but claimed that he was an unwilling participant who was conned by his friend.

Former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte in mugshot (Kershaw County Detention Center)
Former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte in mugshot (Kershaw County Detention Center)

Prosecutors – and the jury – disagreed, saying that Laffitte acted as Murdaugh’s personal banker and as a custodian or conservator for some of his law firm clients.

Laffitte then conspired to defraud the clients, with the two men diverting the money to themselves.

Among the victims was two children – Alaynia and Hannah Plyler – whose family members were killed in a tragic car crash.

Laffitte – whose family launched Palmetto State Bank in 1907 and who like Murdaugh came from a prominent family in the Lowcountry – was fired from the bank as details of the alleged scheme came to light.

During his murder trial, Murdaugh claimed that Laffitte had nothing to do with his schemes.

Instead, Murdaugh confessed on the witness stand to stealing millions from his law firm PMPED and its legal clients going back a decade.

He is facing 99 charges from at least 19 indictments for stealing at least $8.7m in settlements from dozens of legal clients.

Among the slew of charges are counts of: fraud, attempted tax evasion, money laundering, embezzlement, obtaining signature or property by false pretenses, forgery, insurance fraud, and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.

In total, he faces up to 700 years in prison on these charges.

Even without the financial charges, Murdaugh will already spend the remainder of his life in prison after he was found guilty on 2 March of murdering his wife Maggie and son Paul.

Alex Murdaugh is led to the Colleton County Courthouse for his sentencing (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Alex Murdaugh is led to the Colleton County Courthouse for his sentencing (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Maggie and Paul were brutally shot dead on the family’s Moselle property back on 7 June 2021.

Murdaugh, 54, was sentenced to life in prison the day after the verdict.

Murdaugh’s conviction has now shone a spotlight on some other mystery deaths tied to the South Carolina legal dynasty.

Days on from the murders, an investigation was reopened into the 2015 death of Stephen Smith, who was found dead in the middle of the road in Hampton County.

The openly gay 19-year-old had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and his death was officially ruled a hit-and-run. But Smith’s family have long doubted this version of events, with the Murdaugh name cropping up in several police tips and community rumours.

An investigation was also reopened into another mystery death connected to the Murdaugh family – that of their longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield.

She died in 2018 in a mystery trip and fall accident at the family home. Murdaugh then allegedly stole around $4m in a wrongful death settlement from her sons.