CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – After nearly two weeks of witness testimony and review of evidence, jurors will begin their deliberation in the federal charges against ex-Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte Tuesday morning. Laffitte faces six federal indictments tied to financial crimes and schemes allegedly carried out with accused murderer and disbarred Attorney Alex Murdaugh.
Laffitte took the stand Monday morning to complete testimony for his defense, spending roughly two and a half hours on the stand – totaling seven hours of testimony over two days. Through his testimony, Laffitte admitted that he made mistakes, but reiterated that he believed he did nothing illegal as a banker over his nearly three-decade career at his family’s bank. Laffitte says he failed to closely review checks brought to him by Murdaugh, but says he trusted Murdaugh as his attorney and directed the money as he was told to do so by Murdaugh.
During testimony, Laffitte said Murdaugh would regularly bring him settlement documents and paperwork needed to negotiate and direct checks and take on conservator and personal representative work, which Laffitte trusted was drafted in good faith. Laffitte says he’d sign the paperwork without thoroughly reading the documents, something he regrets, and says in hindsight, he should’ve looked over the paperwork.
Laffitte says he believes in his role as conservator for Hannah and Alania Plyler, he handled the money “perfectly,” claiming the loans he extended Murdaugh and himself from the accounts made Hannah Plyler money.
Federal prosecutors questioned Laffitte on his cooperation with state and federal law enforcement through the investigation, acknowledging Laffitte broke his proffer with the federal government when he was “less than truthful” while being questioned earlier this year. Laffitte contested the notion telling Assistant United States Attorney Emily Limehouse he has been fully cooperative in the investigations into him and Murdaugh, handing over “thousands” of documents.
A sticking point for federal prosecutors during Monday’s testimony and closing arguments focused on conservator and personal representative fees Laffitte collected, which amounted to more than $450,000. Laffitte later admitted he did not pay taxes on the money for several years, until the investigations into Murdaugh began, and he knew his failure to pay taxes “would come to light.” Laffitte said he didn’t pay taxes at the time because he didn’t think he needed to.
In federal prosecutors’ closing argument to the jury, Assistant United States Attorney Emily Limehouse started by saying “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” describing Laffitte’s alleged actions alongside Alex Murdaugh. Limehouse says Murdaugh and Laffitte used their generational power in Hampton to divert funds to benefit themselves. She noted that the crimes could’ve happened without Murdaugh but couldn’t have happened without the assistance of Laffitte.
Limehouse also pointed out that while Murdaugh often held back checks for months before asking Laffitte to deposit them into various accounts, she says Laffitte also held back checks before filling them out. Limehouse told jurors physical and digital evidence outlines the allegations made by federal investigators.
To wrap up the closing argument, Limehouse says Laffitte began “covering his tracks” in late 2021 when investigations into Murdaugh began to ramp up, saying Laffitte knew things were going to come to light. Specifically, they say Laffitte paid back taxes he owed on more than $450,000 in conservator fees he made from 2011 to 2014 he failed to pay at the time to reduce his exposure.
Laffitte’s defense started its closing argument to the jury by saying their client has never earned a “red cent” from or with Murdaugh while saying Laffitte would never put his family’s long-standing bank and its reputation at stake. The defense’s argument quickly shifted blame and any wrongdoing in the case to Murdaugh, who they say was a “world-class con man” who duped and tricked everyone around him, including Laffitte.
Defense attorney Bart Daniel says Laffitte has worked with officials at Palmetto State Bank, PMPED, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, and other agencies to uncover the alleged crime from the start.
Laffitte’s co-counsel Matt Austin contended the trial shouldn’t be described as “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” instead saying the case should have a full focus on Murdaugh and those he’s taken advantage of over several years. Austin doubled down on saying Laffitte has admitted to mistakes but did nothing illegal and says federal prosecutors have “hung Alex Murdaugh around Laffitte’s neck.”
After closing arguments concluded, US District Judge Richard Gergel asked the jury to decide if they wanted to be charged and begin deliberations Monday night. After a brief break, Judge Gergel said the best approach was to send the jury home and begin deliberations on a verdict in the morning. The jury will have six federal indictments to decide on. Court is set to resume at 9:00 a.m.