‘He cheated’: Emotional first day of testimony in trial of alleged Murdaugh conspirator
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The man accused of helping Alex Murdaugh and suspended attorney Cory Fleming divert nearly $2 million from clients was back in court Wednesday for the first full day of testimony in his trial.
Former Palmetto State Bank CEO Russell Laffitte is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bank fraud and misapplication of bank funds.
The state took its time displaying check after check signed by Russell that appeared to move settlement money that belonged to the law firm’s clients to the personal accounts of Alex, his wife, his father and Russell’s father. The state listed the Plyler sisters, Arthur Badger, Hakeem Pinckney and Natasha Thomas as major victims.
During the first full day of testimony, Norris Laffitte took the stand. The former Palmetto State Bank Board member and the defendant’s cousin became emotional while testifying. He detailed how the board members came to be suspicious and began to look into the money that appeared to be moving from injury firm clients to personal accounts of former Lowcountry lawyer Alex Murdaugh and his acquaintances.
Norris Laffitte spoke in a choked-up voice.
“We asked him how many times you’ve done this. He said, ‘Once or twice,’” he said.
He ended his time on the stand saying Russell admitted it, he misled them, and he cheated. Norris said by the time the board learned of the money movement, everything was in the past tense; the checks had been deposited.
The state continued with its second witness, Jeanne Seckinger. Seckinger works in the finance department of Parker Law Group, formerly PMPED, where Alex was a partner. She is also the sister-in-law of Russell.
Seckinger says when the firm found out Alex was stealing money, they terminated him, took him off the bank records, reported the incident to State Police and self-reported to the state disciplinary office for law licenses. Seckinger reviewed the state’s exhibits indicating that Russell loaned Alex money out of the client’s accounts.
“I didn’t think that that was a good move, I know that you’re not supposed to do that,” she said. “I see some things that cause me concern. I guess just the magnitude of debt that Alex was in, and somebody could have told and we could have prevented all of this.”
The firm first became suspicious of Murdaugh in June of 2021, worried that he may be hiding money related to cases from the boat crash that killed Mallory Beach. Seckinger says she confronted Alex the morning of his wife and son’s murders.
The firm was in a tizzy after the murders and only returned to looking into missing money in September when they found evidence and reported it to State Police.
“He could have prevented this with a phone call,” Seckinger said about Russell. “He’s not the only one, but if he called, we would have looked into it. We wouldn’t be here if Alex Murdaugh wouldn’t have done anything.”
The defense continues to paint Alex as someone who “uses people as pawns.” Defense attorney Brian Daniel is aiming to show that Alex manipulated Russell Laffitte, who is also a victim. In opening statements on Tuesday, Prosecutor Emily Limehouse says they intend to prove Russell Laffitte was a knowing party in deceiving and defrauding clients of their money.
He is expected to take the stand before the end of the trial which will likely be on Nov. 18.
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