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A 52-year-old New Orleans attorney, charged last year for his participation in 31 illegal staged accidents, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
In a court appearance June 17, Danny Patrick Keating Jr., became the first attorney to plead guilty in the sweeping conspiracy arising out of staged automobile accidents with tractor-trailers in New Orleans. At least three other unnamed attorneys have been referenced in federal indictments of participating in staged crashes but have not yet been charged.
Keating faces a maximum term of five years imprisonment, a fine of $250,000 and a term of supervised release up to three years.
He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 20.
Federal authorities said Keating, who represented 77 plaintiffs who filed false court claims related to the 31 staged accidents, was the 33rd defendant charged in the federal government’s probe into the staging of motor vehicle accidents with tractor-trailers and commercial vehicles in the metropolitan New Orleans area.
To date, 23 of the 33 defendants charged in an estimated 100 staged accidents, have pleaded guilty in federal court, according to a statement issued by Duane Evans, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
According to his plea, Keating was a personal injury attorney who admitted to conspiring with ringleader Damian Labeaud and others to defraud insurance companies, commercial carriers and trucking companies in a scheme involving intentionally staging automobile accidents.
Labeaud referred staged accidents to Keating and other New Orleans personal injury attorneys for $1,000 per passenger for accidents involving tractor-trailers and $500 per passenger for accidents not involving tractor-trailers.
Keating advanced Labeaud thousands of dollars for the accidents. For instance, on July 17, 2017, Keating gave Labeaud $15,000 so Labeaud could purchase a $15,000 cashier’s check to buy another participant’s truck.
Additionally, on Sept. 25, 2017, Keating wrote a $17,000 check to himself for “advertising” and used the proceeds to purchase a $17,000 cashier’s check payable to Labeaud.
The indictment alleges Keating paid Labeaud an additional $12,500 in checks during June 2017.
In all, Keating admitted he settled 17 of the 31 staged accidents. The charges against Keating said he and his clients received approximately $1.5 million in settlements resulting from representation of his clients involved in the staged accidents. Keating kept approximately $358,000 in attorney fees, according to federal authorities.
“Fraud, regardless of its scope and means of orchestration, is a serious crime,” Evans said in a statement. “This guilty plea sends a clear message that our office, along with our local, state and federal partners, will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute all such corruption cases regardless of status.”
The investigation is ongoing.
News of staged accidents in the New Orleans area was first made public in March 2019 for incidents involving two tractor-trailers in 2017. After the first round of indictments, attorneys representing trucking companies called the scams the “tip of the iceberg.”
Trucking companies that travel through the New Orleans area have since been alerted to the scam by attorneys with trucking companies and insurance clients who were victims. In 2019, attorneys representing victims and potential victims identified similarities among at least 30 cases — all in the New Orleans area.
Those suspicious accidents included multiple people in a claimant vehicle, sideswipe allegations with commercial vehicle trailers, minimal damage to claimant vehicle, little to no damage to the insured trailer and a commercial vehicle driver who is either unaware of or denies impact.
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