A grand jury has indicted the former CEO of a South Carolina bank on charges of conspiring with once-prominent, now- suspended attorney Alex Murdaugh to defraud victims — including the family of a deaf man who became quadriplegic after a car crash — of $1.8 million.
Russell Laffitte, who headed Palmetto State Bank until he was fired earlier this year, now faces 21 charges of fraud, conspiracy and computer crimes, state police announced Wednesday.
The charges build upon a scheme authorities say Murdaugh concocted to steal nearly $8.5 million in insurance settlement and other money from clients and other victims, including the sons of Murdaugh's dead housekeeper and a state trooper.
Indictments issued last month accuse Laffitte of secretly sending Murdaugh money that Laffitte held in trust as a conservator for Murdaugh's clients. The indictments also outline accusations that Laffitte sent more client money and bank funds to Murdaugh so Murdaugh could pay back loans issued by Laffitte from client funds in another case.
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The Island Packet of Hilton Head reported in January that Palmetto State Bank's board fired Laffitte after the newspaper asked about requests from the state Supreme Court’s Office Of Disciplinary Counsel for records of cases where Laffitte acted as an official to help Murdaugh’s clients and their families handle legal settlements.
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One of those clients, Hakeem Pinckney, was a deaf man who became quadriplegic after a 2009 car crash. Police say Murdaugh took a $309,000 check intended for Pinckney’s family and instead bought money orders that went to cover money he took from the accounts of other clients, to pay down a loan and get cash for himself and an unnamed family member.
After Pinckney died in a nursing home from the lingering effects of his injuries, Murdaugh received an additional $89,000 settlement on Pinckney’s behalf, but deposited that check in his account without telling the man’s family, prosecutors have said.
A new indictment also alleges that suspended attorney Cory Fleming, who represented Pinckney’s mother, helped Murdaugh steal the $89,000 and used some of the family’s money to book a private plane to fly himself, Murdaugh and a third attorney to the 2012 College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
“It’s cold, it’s callous,” said Justin Bamberg, an attorney for Pinckney’s mother, on Thursday.
Fleming, a close friend of Murdaugh’s, is also accused of working with Murdaugh to defraud the sons of Gloria Satterfield, the housekeeper who died after a 2018 fall at the Murdaugh home. The sons said Murdaugh suggested they hire Fleming to sue Murdaugh for wrongful death without disclosing that Fleming had been his college roommate and godfather to at least one of Murdaugh’s sons.
Murdaugh’s career began unraveling shortly after his wife and son were found shot dead outside the family’s home last June. State police have released little information about the killings and haven't named any suspects. Murdaugh's attorneys have insisted he had nothing to do with the deaths.
The 53-year-old heir to a legal dynasty in Hampton County, South Carolina has been jailed since October on an ever-growing list of charges including breach of trust, forgery, money laundering and computer crimes. He is also accused of trying to arrange his own death so his surviving son could collect $10 million in insurance money. He faces a number of civil lawsuits as well.
Murdaugh’s lawyers have blamed years of opioid addiction for his behavior, saying he has sought counseling and wants to make things right for the clients he hurt.
Both Murdaugh and Fleming have since had their law licenses suspended by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report.