Former South Carolina banker Russell Laffitte is wrapping up his defense in his Charleston trial over allegations of federal banking and wire fraud.
Laffitte’s trial has been underway for two weeks over his role in removing money from clients’ accounts for the benefit of disgraced Lowcountry attorney Alex Murdaugh, who is charged with both financial crimes and murder in the death of his wife and son last year.
Two witnesses have testified so far Friday morning. But many will wait Friday to see if Laffitte takes the stand in defense, a rare step in these kinds of trials that would expose the former CEO of Hampton-based Palmetto State Bank to questioning by prosecutors.
Tiffany Provence, a former probate judge, testified Friday that it’s not unusual for a custodian to oversee a child account, as Laffitte did for several people who received legal settlements won by Murdaugh, to borrow money from that account to granting loans and making investments. in favor of the account.
“Borrowing money is not uncommon, as long as it goes back to the department,” she said.
But District Attorney Winston Holliday pointed out that not all cases of borrowing are allowed, even if the custodian takes money from a client’s account for his own benefit.
“A conservator acting in self-interest. You don’t have to be a lawyer to know this isn’t right?” he asked.
In one instance, Laffitte was the conservator for Donna Badger, who died in a car accident, but not for her surviving husband Arthur, who received a settlement for that same car accident. The prosecution tightened that in at least one case, Laffitte took money from Arthur’s own account, which he did not supervise.
Provence said she didn’t know why Laffitte would receive money from Arthur instead of Badger’s estate.
Laffitte also managed a conservator account for another accident victim, Natarsha Thomas, after Thomas had grown up and had to manage her own money.
The prosecution got Provence to admit that an attorney in a settlement case cannot ask a conservator to “steal” money from a client’s account, the allegation at the heart of the case against Laffitte.
“And doesn’t the curator have to follow the lawyer’s instructions?” Holiday said. “That person has the right to say ‘no’?”
This story can be updated.