More indictments handed down in Louisiana staged accident scheme

The staged accident scandal in Louisiana keeps getting bigger.

Nine more individuals were charted in an indictment handed down by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Peter Strasser last week. The specific charges against the defendants are all based on mail fraud, as it was for the 19 people previously charged.

That brings to 28 the total number of people indicted. 

The indictments, however, have yet to reach the attorneys or other organizers allegedly behind the scheme to stage accidents with tractor-trailers. The indictments so far have targeted what appear to be lower-level people involved in the scheme, many of whom were passengers in the cars that are alleged to have put themselves into position to create an accident with a truck or, in the latest indictment, a bus. 

But two of those individuals, Damian Labeaud and Mario Solomon, have pleaded guilty to their charges and are believed to be cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

None of the indictments have identified any attorneys by name, referring only to attorneys A and B as the masterminds behind the staged accident plan. There also is a reference to a co-conspirator who has not been indicted.

The only identification of an attorney so far who may have been involved in the staged accident scheme is in a RICO lawsuit filed by one of the trucking companies against Danny Patrick Keating Jr., a New Orleans attorney. That lawsuit was filed by Southeast Motor Freight.

The latest indictment makes several references to co-conspirator A, attorney A and attorney B, none of whom are identified by name. 

The two companies that are involved in the staged accidents cited in the latest indictment are Averitt Express and a bus company, Hotard Bus. The funds paid out by those companies and their insurers were reported in the indictment as $707,500.

The defendant cited most often in the latest action is Cornelius Garrison. The indictment says an arrest warrant for him had been issued. According to the indictment, co-conspirator A would work with attorneys A and B to stage accidents and direct other individuals involved in the scheme on what to do.

While earlier indictments in the case that spelled out payments were not enormous, the latest indictment said co-conspirator A paid Garrison “at least” $150,000 for his role in staging the accidents. 

The details in the indictment of how the accidents were staged are similar to what has been alleged in earlier indictments. A truck — or in one of the cases in the latest indictment a bus — was identified as a target. Garrison would be behind the wheel and would collide with the larger vehicle and would then switch seats to look as if he were a passenger. After the accident, police were notified. 

In a prepared statement announcing the indictments, Strasser recapped how the staged accidents allegedly would occur. 

“Garrison targeted commercial vehicles, including tractor-trailers, that were changing lanes and would cause the accident by striking the commercial vehicle or tractor-trailer in their blind spot, using the slammer vehicle,” Strasser said. “After the accident, Garrison would usually exit the vehicle from the passenger side in order to avoid being seen by the driver of the target vehicle.  Garrison instructed the passengers to call 911 to report that they had been hit by a vehicle. A passenger in the vehicle would falsely claim to have been the driver at the time of the staged accident.”

Injuries from the accidents were claimed by some of the other defendants in the indictment. Demands for settlements were made — as low as $6,000 in one case and as much as $2 million in another. 

The staged bus accident allegedly occured in 2015. The accident with the Averitt Freightliner was in 2017.

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