Murdaugh accomplice Laffitte sentenced to 7 years federal prison, $3.55 million to victims

A former banker convicted for helping disbarred South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh steal millions from multiple victims was sentenced to seven years in federal prison today, Aug. 1.

Attorneys for several fraud victims confirmed that U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel today sentenced Russell Lucius Laffitte, of Estill, to 84 months in federal prison, to be served concurrently with any state prison sentence he may later receive for his crimes.

Laffitte was convicted following a nearly three-week-long jury trial in November 2022 of conspiring with Hampton personal injury attorney Murdaugh to commit wire fraud and bank fraud; wire fraud; bank fraud; and three counts of misapplication of bank funds. He is also facing S.C. State Grand Jury charges for the same crimes, but has not been tried on those indictments.

Laffitte will also have to serve five years of supervised release after his federal prison sentence and pay at least $3.55 million in restitution to his victims.

There is usually no option for parole or early release in federal prisons.

Former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte, at right, walks into the H.C. Courthouse on Friday with his wife, Susie, followed by attorneys and family members.

Judge Gergel plans to recommend that Laffitte voluntarily report to serve his time at Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) Jesup in Georgia, which is roughly two hours and 12 minutes from Hampton, S.C. However, the U.S. Department of Corrections will ultimately make the final decision on his detainment.

It was unclear when Laffitte will have to report to the federal prison. He has 14 days to appeal his sentence.

During the sentencing hearing in Charleston on Tuesday, Laffitte’s attorneys claimed repeatedly that Laffitte was not fully responsible and was also a victim of Murdaugh’s schemes, but Judge Gergel did not seem swayed by this argument and overruled most of their objections.

“It wouldn’t have happened without Mr. Murdaugh, and it couldn’t have happened without Russell Laffitte,” argued federal prosecutor Emily Limehouse.

“No one is celebrating the downfalls of the Murdaugh and Laffitte family name. They are celebrating accountability.”

– Justin Bamberg, victims’ attorney

In sentencing, Judge Gergel commented on the “vulnerable” victims involved, and the “sophisticated” and “methodical” schemes of Murdaugh and Laffitte.

At least eight friends and family or community members of Laffitte, including two Hampton County pastors, testified about his good character, and his victims took the stand as well to talk about their pain and suffering.

Laffitte himself took the stand and apologized to the victims, his family, the bank and its customers, but prosecutors said repeatedly that he did not fully show remorse or accept responsibility for his actions.

Laffitte’s attorneys argued that he could not fully accept responsibility in light of the pending state criminal charges.

Palmetto State Bank's Hampton branch.

Attorneys for Murdaugh/Laffitte victims respond to federal sentence

Justin Bamberg is an attorney representing several of Murdaugh and Laffitte’s victims, including the family and estate of a deaf quadriplegic, Hakeem Pinkney. He said after the sentencing hearing that even though the former banker did not truly acknowledge his guilt or show remorse, there was a noticeable difference in his actions in court.

“Today was the first day we heard him say he was sorry, and that’s a positive change,” said Bamberg.

When asked if he felt that justice was served with a 7-year sentence, Bamberg responded: “Seven years is a long time. The defense was seeking three to five years, but they did not get what they were looking for. Prison is tough on anybody, particularly for people who have never been there before and for people of a certain echelon who usually don’t experience facing the piper.”

Justice wasn’t done yet, Bamberg added, referencing the pending state charges on Laffitte.

Feb 2, 2023; Walterboro, SC, USA; Justin Bamberg (right) is seen listening in the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, Thursday, Feb. 02, 2023. Mandatory Credit: Andrew J. Whitaker /Pool via USA TODAY NETWORK

“This is a major part of justice being served, but this is an ongoing thing. The messaging is vindication for the people that were screwed over after all these years. For the person that did this to you to have to say your name, that is a liberating thing. There is a lot of vindication here, but it’s just a step along the way. Accountability will be pursued until the ends of justice.”

Attorney Eric Bland represents two young girls who lost their mother in a car accident to be further victimized by Laffitte.

“We apprecaite that Judge Gergel was faced with the difficult task of balancing the need to punish the crimes committed and to deter similar crimes, while not over punishing the defendant,” said Bland. “Based on national statistics, it appears that the court’s sentence falls in line with similar convictions for similar offenses. In the end, sentencing is the exercise of hating the sin, but not the sinner. It’s a tough job, but I think the judge clearly hated these sins.”

Convicted and disgraced Hampton banker Russell Laffitte stands in the Hampton County Courthouse as, in the background, hangs a portrait of Alex Murdaugh's grandfather, Randolph

Laffitte declined earlier plea deal that would have earned him less time

Laffitte, former Palmetto State Bank CEO, is a member of a South Carolina banking family that traces its roots back more than a century and owns banks in several S.C. Lowcountry counties. He was terminated from the bank in January of 2022 then charged with state and federal crimes later that year.

In the week’s and months leading up to the trial, Laffitte was offered opportunities for reduced sentenced, but declined them.

In one offer, Laffitte could have received only 72 months agreed to admit guilt and more restitution, but he declined that offer, along with an offer of 87 months.

While Laffitte’s attorneys were seeking a reduced sentence of three to five years, federal prosecutors were asking for an even larger sentence than he received.

On July 27, federal prosecutors filed a 35-page sentencing memorandum requesting that Laffitte be sentenced to a term ranging from 108 to 135 months (9 years to 11.25 years) because of the nature of the crimes and the victims.

Here are some highlights from that extensive court filing:

  • Laffitte repeatedly shows “a continued unwillingness to accept any responsibility for his actions or acknowledge the harm his actions have inflicted on the victims,” say federal prosecutors.
  • The federal government claims that Laffitte and “his coconspirator Alex Murdaugh were held responsible for at least $3,784,368.98 in loss” from victims, but Laffitte disputes those numbers.
  • Laffitte and Murdaugh allegedly defrauded vulnerable people, including a “quadriplegic car accident victim livingin a nursing home,” cites the court filing.
  • Laffitte “used and abused his position of power and trust to exploit unusually vulnerable victims in a complex scheme of deception and concealment. And when faced with the inevitable discovery of his and Murdaugh’s scheme, the Defendant engaged in a desperate yet elaborate attempt to cover it up.”
  • Many of Murdaugh’s thefts would not have been possible without Laffitte’s assistance, say prosecutors. In fact, they go on to claim, Laffitte is the only person that could have stopped him.
  • Laffitte allegedly lied under oath four times and refuses to take responsibility for his actions, states the sentencing memorandum.

In court, Laffitte’s attorneys disputed the government’s calculations of the financial extent of his crimes, as well as calculations for how much prison time he was entitled to.

On July 31, Laffitte’s attorneys filed a motion with the federal courts seeking a “downward variance” in Laffitte’s prison sentence and financial compensation to victims.

Seton Tucker, journalist, researcher and co-host of the Impact of Influence podcast, contributed to this report.

Follow Michael DeWitt’s reporting on the Murdaugh crime saga, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter at @mmdewittjr


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