Trio pleads guilty to involvement in Louisiana staged accidents

Three more individuals have pleaded guilty in the growing Louisiana staged truck accident scandal in which more than 30 people have been indicted.

The guilty pleas set up the prospect that the list of people who are cooperating with federal investigators against the masterminds of the scheme is growing. Earlier defendants who entered guilty pleas were said by federal prosecutors to be cooperating. The prepared statement released by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana on the three most recent guilty pleas did not mention cooperation from the individuals.

The three people who pleaded guilty are Roderick Hickman, who appears to have been one of the ringleaders, as well as Bernell Gale and Troy Smith. The charges they pleaded guilty to were conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Most of the other indictments in the case were for mail fraud-related charges as well.

There have been no indictments yet of any of the individuals behind the scheme, including what are believed to be several attorneys. 

The indictments are connected to three separate staged accidents. The Hickman collision was in February 2017 with a trucking company called HMNG Trucking. The Gale and Smith collisions were on the same day, one with a company called Stevie B.’s Trucking and a second with Tennessee Commercial Warehouse. 

The collision spelled out in the court document on Hickman’s guilty plea details that he planned the staged accident with Damien Labeaud. Labeaud also has pleaded guilty and his name pops up in many indictments, suggesting he is a significant source of cooperation for federal investigators. 

How the collisions happened all fit into the same pattern that has been detailed in earlier indictments and guilty pleas. Attorneys and unidentified “co-conspirators” recruited people to be either “slammers,” who drove the car into the truck or bus causing a collision, or passengers in the car who then alleged injuries. The attorneys are identified only by letter in the federal actions, with the number of “letters” now up to five, going through Attorney E. Throughout the legal process, there also have been three unidentified co-conspirators, going through co-conspirator C.

Some of the payouts were significant. People who were indicted just a few days before these three guilty pleas received five-figure awards and appear to have bought expensive cars with some of their payout money. Others got nothing except possibly a few hundred dollars paid out by the attorneys before the staged accidents occured. Some had surgeries for fake injuries that were unnecessary, suggesting that some doctors were involved in the scheme. 

While the attorneys who allegedly put together the scheme have not been identified by name, New Orleans news organizations have identified lawyers who appear to be some of the targets by investigators. 

One is Daniel Patrick Keating; a second is Vanessa Motta. She had been the attorney for Cornelius Garrison, who had been indicted last month but was murdered soon after. Garrison was said to be cooperating with investigators. Attorneys for both Keating and Motta have declined comment.

Keating is also a target of a RICO suit filed by Southeastern Motor Freight, which was targeted in one of the collisions. The RICO suit was filed on behalf of Southeastern by the law firm of Breazeala, Sachse & Wilson.

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