Ex-bank CEO and associate of Alex Murdaugh indicted on wire and bank fraud charges

A former bank CEO has been indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of conspiring with disbarred lawyer Alex Murdaugh to misappropriate funds from clients, diverting millions of dollars.

Russell Laffitte, the former CEO of Palmetto State Bank in Hampton, South Carolina, was hit with a five-count indictment Wednesday, charging him with wire fraud, bank fraud, and misapplication of bank funds, the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of South Carolina announced Wednesday. 

Laffitte, 51, served as conservator or personal representative for Murdaugh’s clients, when he worked as a personal injury lawyer.

The indictment did not name Murdaugh and referred to him as “the bank customer,” but a lawyer for two of their victims, identified him.

The indictment reveals Laffitte on several occasions extended loans from conservatorship accounts to himself or Murdaugh, without official approval or notifying the law firm, and the two would later repay the siphoned off money with funds from other conservatorship accounts.

Murdaugh, the scion of a prominent South Carolina legal dynasty, has made headlines since the mysterious 2021 slayings of his wife Margaret, 52, and son Paul, 22.

Following their deaths Murdaugh, 54, hired a hitman to kill him for his older son to collect his life insurance policy, officials said, and he was charged with dozens of financial crimes.

After months of investigation, Murdaugh was indicted last week in their deaths and he pleaded not guilty to murder charges Wednesday.

The Wednesday indictment details instances in which Laffitte, while working with Murdaugh, defrauded six clients “under materially false and fraudulent pretenses and by making materially false representations.”

Those cases dated back to July 2011 and lasted through the decade.

“Laffitte — while serving as conservator for the bank customer’s personal injury clients — extended $355,000 in personal loans to himself and $990,000 in personal loans to the bank customer from funds held at PSB and belonging to the personal injury clients,” the release stated.

Officials said Laffitte extended the loans to Murdaugh, knowing they “were used to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in overdraft on the bank customer’s personal account.”

The indictment further alleges that Laffitte knew Murdaugh “used funds stolen from other personal injury clients to pay back the loans.”

The release states Laffitte received disbursement checks from Murdaugh’s law firm and he negotiated and distributed the funds following Murdaugh’s direction into bank money orders, cash and other wire transfers.

At the same time, Laffitte collected nearly $400,000 in fees for his role as conservator and personal representative.

The indictment listed two occasions in which Laffitte “willfully misapplied bank funds.

In October 2021, he paid Murdaugh’s law firm $680,000 without notice or consent from the bank. In July 2021, he “misapplied $750,000 of bank funds” by extending a loan to Murdaugh, despite “knowing the loan was essentially unsecured” and that the funds “were used to pay an attorney and to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in overdraft on the bank customer’s personal account.”

Laffitte and Murdaugh were both indicted in May on similar charges by a state grand jury, accused of diverting nearly $2 million from clients on three separate instances.

Laffitte was fired from his job at the bank earlier this year.

Laffitte faces a maximum term of 30 years in jail on the charges, according to the release.

His lawyer Bart Daniel told NBC News he and his co-council “intend to vigorously fight the charges at trial on behalf of Russell Laffitte.”

The case was investigated by the FBI, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office. 

Attorneys Eric Bland and Ronald Richter, Jr, who are representing two victims listed in the indictment, Alania Spohn and Hannah Plyler, applauded the charges.

“Russ Laffitte and Alex Murdaugh plundered their conservator accounts and treated it like their own personal slush fund,” they said in a statement released Wednesday.

The sisters lost their mother and brother and suffered injuries during a rollover car accident in July 2005, when they were children, the lawyers said.

The girls “placed their trust” in Murdaugh, Laffitte and their entities “to guide them in connection with the subsequent lawsuit, settlement and preservation of their settlement funds.”

“The girls viewed Russ Laffitte as a father figure and trusted him to navigate the waters ahead for them and to guide them,” the statement said. “It is difficult to express the emotions and disappointment of learning years later that those who had sworn to protect the Plylers chose instead to prey upon them.”