Murdaugh’s alleged accomplice could be free to travel if SC judge reduces his $1M bond

·4 min read
S.C. Courts

One-time Hampton banker Russell Laffitte, who is accused of helping suspended Lowcountry attorney Alex Murdaugh in a scheme to defraud legal clients, is seeking a reduction in a $1 million bond set recently by a state judge and court approval to move freely across South Carolina.

Laffitte, 51, filed a request Tuesday to cut the bond amount and its requirements that he remain on home detention, a provision that sharply limits his movements. If the appeal is successful, Laffitte could travel around the state.

If the $1 million bond is reduced, his family also could be reimbursed for much of the amount posted to get him out of jail. The judge allowed Laffitte to post 10% of the $1 million, or $100,000.

Laffitte’s lawyers noted that the bond amount and conditions set down by Circuit Judge Alison Renee Lee were substantially stricter than those against Corey Fleming, a lawyer and friend of Murdaugh’s who has also been charged criminally.

A judge set Fleming’s bond at $200,000 without house arrest or monitoring of his movements. If Lafitte’s bond is reduced to match Fleming’s, Laffitte’s family could be reimbursed about $80,000 if only 10% of the $200,000 is required to be posted, an attorney said.

In the request to reduce the bond, lawyer Matt Austin said the conditions set by Lee were excessive and unwarranted.

Laffitte is a non-violent person who poses no threat of fleeing Hampton or South Carolina while charges are pending, his attorneys said. The request to reduce the bond said the S.C. Attorney General’s office only asked for a $500,000 bond, not the $1 million the judge set.

Bonds are set for people in criminal cases to make sure they don’t flee in an attempt to avoid prosecution. If an accused person doesn’t show up for trial, that person can lose the bond amount posted.

“Mr. Laffitte has a constitutional right to be released on bail in an amount no higher than necessary to insure his presence at trial,’’ the legal filing said.

The S.C. Attorney General’s office had no immediate comment Wednesday.

Laffitte, from a well-known Hampton banking family, is charged with 21 crimes, including breach of trust with fraudulent intent, computer crime and criminal conspiracy. A one-time chief executive at Palmetto State bank, he was fired by the bank this year.

The S.C. Attorney General’s Office said Laffitte is a friend of Murdaugh, who is charged with an array of crimes connected to a sensational case that has drawn national attention.

Prosecutors say Laffitte, a one-time executive with Palmetto State Bank in Hampton, provided “off-the-books’’ loans to Murdaugh through the bank. Disbursement checks from a client trust account would be made out to Palmetto State Bank, prosecutors said. Murdaugh would take those to Laffitte, who would convert them for Murdaugh’s personal use, prosecutors have said.

Murdaugh has been in jail for months, unable to post a $7 million bond for a long list of charges. Murdaugh is named in 15 separate indictments containing 79 charges against him in schemes to steal some $8.4 million from various alleged victims.

Murdaugh’s wife and son were shot and killed nearly a year ago on their family’s Lowcountry estate.

At the time, the son, Paul Murdaugh, was facing criminal charges as a result of a boating accident that killed 19-year-old Mallory Beach. Alex Murdaugh later allegedly asked a former client to kill him so another son, Buster, could collect on a $10 million insurance payment. Murdaugh survived the shooting.

Laffitte has not been tied to any of those issues, and instead, is an upstanding member of the Hampton community who was unwittingly swept up in Murdaugh’s financial misdeeds, according to his legal team, which includes Austin and former U.S. Attorney Bart Daniel.

Laffitte is “neither a danger to the community nor a flight risk, given the non-violent nature of the allegations against him, his lack of a criminal record and his long-standing and substantial ties to Hampton County specifically, and South Carolina in general,’’ according to the appeal to reduce his bond.

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