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Alex Murdaugh co-conspirator granted delay to prison sentence – again

A federal judge has granted a motion that would postpone the start of a prison sentence for former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte.

South Carolina US District Judge Richard Gergel sentenced Laffitte to seven years in federal prison on 2 August for his role as an accomplice in convicted killer Alex Murdaugh’s financial crimes.

Laffitte filed a motion to appeal on 8 August, followed by a motion for release pending that appeal on 14 August.

A week later he and prosecutors agreed to postpone the beginning of the prison term until 21 September, with the court saying it would give the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals an “adequate opportunity” to address the motion for release pending appeal, Live 5 WCSC reports. The appeals court has not yet ruled.

Judge Gergel granted Laffitte’s request for one more delay on Wednesday, granting him until 28 September to report to prison to begin serving his sentence.

In his order, the judge stated: “No further extensions will be granted.”

Laffitte was convicted in November 2022 of financial fraud charges in connection to Murdaugh’s alleged white-collar criminal schemes.

Following Murdaugh’s conviction in March for the murders of his wife, Maggie, and son, Paul, Lafitte filed a motion requesting a second trial.

“On February 23, 2023, Mr Murdaugh explicitly stated, for the first time in sworn testimony, that he did not participate in a conspiracy with Mr Laffitte because Mr Laffitte did not participate in the financial crimes,” the motion stated.

“Mr Murdaugh took full responsibility for his own actions and testified that Mr Laffitte did nothing wrong and did not have any knowledge of Mr Murdaugh’s criminal activity.”

His conviction came on the basis that he was Murdaugh’s co-defendant in his sprawling multi-million-dollar – and decade-long – schemes.

During the murder trial, disgraced attorney Murdaugh took the witness stand and confessed to stealing millions of dollars from his law firm PMPED and its clients.

But he defended his former associate Laffitte, insisting that he had no involvement in his own vast fraud schemes.

“Russell Laffitte never conspired with me to do anything, whatever was done was done by me,” said Murdaugh.

“This is stuff that I did. I did these things wrong. Russell Laffitte didn’t do anything… You keep talking about stuff I did with Russell Laffitte, but what I want to let you know is that I did this and I am the one that took people’s money that I shouldn’t have taken and that Russell Laffitte was not involved in helping me do that knowingly…

“If he did it, he did it without knowing it.”

Laffitte’s attorneys pointed to this testimony as “newly discovered evidence” in the case as they argued that the disgraced bank CEO should be tried a second time.

The motion requesting a second trial was filed just three days after a judge tossed an earlier request for a new trial.

Russell Laffitte was convicted in November on a string of financial fraud charges (Kershaw County Detention Center)
Russell Laffitte was convicted in November on a string of financial fraud charges (Kershaw County Detention Center)

Judge Gergel denied the first motion for a new trial on 6 March – just four days after Murdaugh was found guilty of the brutal double murder of his family which prosecutors said was motivated by his efforts to cover up his financial crimes.

That motion was based on the chaotic end to Laffitte’s trial which saw two jurors replaced at the 11th hour.

The two female jurors were excused and replaced with alternates after the panel had spent nine hours deliberating the verdict.

One of the jurors needed to stand down because she needed to take her time-sensitive medication while the second was experiencing severe anxiety and was unable to continue performing her duties.

Following his conviction, Laffitte fired his legal team and filed a motion arguing that these two jurors were holding out against reaching a unanimous guilty verdict and – when dismissed – the panel convicted him in less than an hour.

The legal team also requested a new trial on four other grounds including the validity of the guilty verdict and that Laffitte’s attorneys were ineffective.

But the request was denied by Judge Gergel who, in the ruling, called the claims “wholly without merit”.

The judge also denied motions for an acquittal and an evidentiary hearing.

During his trial, Laffitte admitted that he had played a part in Murdaugh’s vast financial fraud schemes – but claimed that he was an unwilling participant who was conned by his friend.

Prosecutors – and the jury – disagreed, saying that Laffitte acted as Murdaugh’s personal banker and as a custodian or conservator for some of his law firm clients.

He then conspired to defraud those clients, with the two men diverting the money to themselves.

Laffitte – whose family launched Palmetto State Bank in 1907 and who like Murdaugh came from a prominent family in the Lowcountry – was fired from the bank as details of the alleged scheme came to light.

While Murdaugh claimed Laffitte’s innocence at his murder trial, he confessed that he himself had stolen millions from his legal clients going back a decade.