CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Tuesday’s hearings in the federal trial against Ex-Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte continued with testimony from several witnesses called by the federal government. Among those who took the stand were alleged victims Natasha Thomas and Arthur Badger, an employee with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Palmetto State Bank’s Deputy Director of Data Processing, and the FBI Agent who has investigated Laffitte’s alleged federal crimes.
Both Thomas and Badger were involved in separate car accidents and hired Alex Murdaugh as their attorney to recover settlements. Natasha Thomas was a passenger in a car driven by her aunt, riding with another passenger and Hakeem Pinckney. Pinckney was left paralyzed as a result of the crash. Pinckney would later die from his injuries.
Murdaugh reached a substantial settlement for the two, and brought on Laffitte to serve as a conservator for both Pinckney and Thomas. However, Thomas didn’t require a conservator, being over 18-years-old, and Pinckney died around the time the settlement was finalized. Murdaugh never informed Thomas that Laffitte was serving as her conservator to oversee the awarded monies.
Thomas testified while waiting for settlement money to come in, she went to Palmetto State Bank and Laffitte to get a loan to pay for school. Laffitte extended a loan with an interest rate of 18%, despite granting sizable loans to himself and Murdaugh with interest rates of less than 5%. Thomas says she was never told by Murdaugh how much her settlement was but received a check for $83,000, which she used to buy a car.
Federal prosecutors presented evidence to Thomas showing an additional $325,000 check from her settlement was never sent to her. Instead, the $325,000 settlement money was broken down into nine individual checks. Evidence shows the checks were disbursed to Alex Murdaugh, Maggie Murdaugh, Randolph Murdaugh III, Russell Laffitte, Charlie Laffitte, and an LLC owned by Murdaugh. They were also used to pay back loans from other clients for whom Laffitte served as a conservator. Palmetto State Bank received an additional check for $25,000 prosecutors say was broken down into three separate cash-back payments to Alex Murdaugh.
Arthur Badger and his late wife Donna were involved in an accident invovling a UPS truck. Donna Badger passed away at the scene from a head injury suffered in the accident. Arthur Badger hired Alex Murdaugh at the advice of a friend to seek a wrongful death settlement following the accident. Murdaugh won a multi-million dollar settlement on behalf of Badger, his wife’s estate, and the couple’s six children.
Badger says he thought he was serving as the Personal Representative over his wife’s estate but claims Alex Murdaugh had him sign the role over to Russell Laffitte without his knowledge. Prosecutors say Laffitte collected a $35,000 conservator fee despite never serving as conservator for Badger’s case. Despite Murdaugh winning a $1.3 million dollar settlement on Badger’s behalf, Badger says he only received $369,882.
Prosecutors say the remaining money owed to Arthur Badger was broken down into a number of checks and paid to a number of different people, including $388,687 to PMPED (Murdaugh Law Firm) Attorney and Partner Johnny Parker and $151,726 to repay loans from Hannah Plyler’s Conservatorship.
FBI Special Agent Brian Womble, who has served as a lead agent in the investigations into Laffitte, was called to the stand by federal prosecutors. Womble says the initial investigations into Laffitte began in early 2022 as investigators combed through Alex Murdaugh’s finances. Womble testified Laffitte initially made a loan from Hannah Plyler’s Conservatorship before eventually making a number of loans to both himself and Alex Murdaugh from several clients. Womble says neither Murdaugh nor Laffitte sought court approval to make loans from Plyer’s account or any others.
Through the investigation and cases, Laffitte has contended he was a victim who trusted Alex Murdaugh’s advice as his attorney. During testimony Womble contends Laffitte served as a Conservator for Malik Williams at the advice of PMPED Attorney Paul Detrich, yet still loaned settlement money of Williams’ to Murdaugh. Womble says Murdaugh should’ve had no knowledge of that case or settlement money.
Laffitte’s attorneys used their examination of Womble to emphasize how Murdaugh allegedly manipulated those around him, including Laffitte, to “patiently” steal money from the law firm’s clients. Lead attorney Bart Daniels argued Murdaugh was able to trick his partners and assistants at PMPED, saying law firm employees should’ve caught irregular banking by Murdaugh on monthly bank statements. Daniels used the case of former Palmetto State Bank employee Chad Westendorf, who served as a conservator in the death settlement of Murdaugh’s former housekeeper Gloria Satterfield, as another person who was tricked by Murdaugh when Murdaugh asked him to be a conservator. Murdaugh used Westendorf to steal $4.3 million dollars owed to the Satterfield family.
Federal prosecutors rested their case after Womble’s interview, having brought fifteen witnesses to the stand to testify against Laffitte. Defense attorneys for Laffitte expect to begin calling the first of nine witnesses to the stand Wednesday morning as part of their case. Laffitte’s Attorneys asked US District Judge Richard Gergel to acquit Laffitte on the charges, a motion he denied. Judge Gergel is hopeful jury deliberation could begin on Monday morning.