Former bank CEO, Murdaugh associate indicted on federal fraud charges

Published: Jul. 21, 2022 at 5:53 PM EDT
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HAMPTON COUNTY, S.C. (WTOC) - The first federal charges related to the Alex Murdaugh cases came down this week, but Murdaugh is not named in the indictment.

Russell Laffitte, former CEO of Palmetto State Bank faces multiple federal fraud charges related to his role managing the bank accounts of Murdaugh’s law clients.

Eric Bland is an attorney representing the Plyler sisters, who lost their mother and brother in a car crash back in 2005. The indictment says Laffitte illegally loaned money the sisters won in court to himself and an un-named conspirator, Bland identifies as Alex Murdaugh.

“Over the next six seven years, Russ Laffitte and Alex Murdaugh plundered their accounts for their own personal use,” Bland said.

The indictment backs that up, saying... “The Defendant, RUSSELL LAFFITTE, and his coconspirator, referred to as “the Bank Customer”, “plotted to take money from Customer’s personal injury clients”.”

Bland says all of this went through Palmetto State Bank, where Laffitte was CEO. The bank is headquartered in Hampton, the hometown of the Murdaughs.

The federal charges said, “Laffitte used his position, while serving as the personal representative and conservator for the clients, to obtain money in the care, custody, and control of the bank.”

The Plyler sister’s attorney says that’s when the scheme started to unravel.

“When it came time to get their money when they were 18, there was nothing there,” Bland said.

Laffitte is charged with conspiracy, bank fraud, wire fraud, and two counts of misapplication of bank funds. His attorneys say, “We intend to vigorously fight the charges at trial.”

The Palmetto State Bank declined to comment.

Bland says there are a lot of things that still need to shake out over the next six to 12 months, but he expects the federal trial to move quickly once started.

Bland is also the lawyer for Gloria Satterfield’s sons, and he watched Alex Murdaugh’s bond hearing online Wednesday and says he was fascinated by how it went down.

He said he believes Murdaugh’s attorney, Dick Harpootlian, won’t necessarily be looking for a not guilty verdict but a hung jury instead.

“I think they didn’t expect that he was going to walk in and waive the bond. Quite frankly I’m very disappointed that Creighton Waters would agree to a gag order,” Bland said.

Waters, the leading lawyer for the state at the bond hearing, and Harpootlian agreed to no bond - meaning no evidence was presented Wednesday. Something Murdaugh’s team explained by saying they didn’t want to pollute the jury pool.

“In this information age the truth is, everybody’s on Facebook, everybody’s on Instagram, everybody’s on Twitter, you know everybody thumbs the internet. It’s going to be very hard to find twelve jurors that haven’t read or heard about this case.”

Bland also pointed out a potentially fatal flaw Harpootlian made.

“There’s one thing that Dick did that I think is going to come back to haunt him, and that is that twice he used the words that Alex is innocent.”

Bland believes the state will use that against Murdaugh and also added that he’d like to see South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson step into this case in some fashion.

Bland is also involved in the first federal charges related to Murdaugh.

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