Federal Judge Sentences Four Involved in Staged New Orleans Crashes

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Four more individuals have been sentenced for their role in staged crashes with tractor-trailers in the New Orleans area.

It was the latest development in the crash-for-cash criminal schemes against unknowing truckers. Prosecutors said the schemes were orchestrated by a “slammer,” or driver, paid by a local attorney who filed fraudulent lawsuits against the trucking companies on behalf of the participants in staged accidents that occurred in May and June 2017.

For her role in the two intentional crashes, Stacie Wheaten, 51, of Fairburn, Ga. was sentenced to 18 months in prison. David Brown, 51, of Morgan City, La.; Gilda Henderson, 70, also of Morgan City; and Latrell Johnson, 30, of New Orleans were all sentenced to three years probation.

Prosecutors said in a release Wheaten recruited the three individuals to be passengers in the crashes.

A federal judge also assessed hefty restitution payments for all four individuals.

According to court documents, Wheaten and others were introduced to slammer Damian Labeaud and attorney Patrick Keating in 2017. At the meeting, Keating agreed to pay Labeaud for staged automobile collisions. Wheaten recruited passengers to participate in staged automobile accidents with tractor-trailers in New Orleans that occurred on May 17, 2017 and June 5, 2017. The passengers in the collisions filed fraudulent lawsuits that claimed the tractor-trailers were at fault.

So far, Keating is the only attorney who has been charged with filing fraudulent claims, but four other unidentified attorneys mentioned in charging documents also have been accused of criminal activity in the scams. None have yet been charged.

Labeaud and Keating are scheduled to be sentenced later this year.

So far, the number of men and women busted in the FBI’s “operation sideswipe” investigation is approaching 50, and is likely to continue growing in coming months. The government believes that as many as 100 staged accidents have occurred in the New Orleans area, and dozens of scammers already have collected judgments totaling millions of dollars dating back to 2015.

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News of the 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, defense attorneys representing trucking attorneys called the scams the “tip of the iceberg.”

Trucking companies that travel through the New Orleans area have since been alerted to the staged accidents by attorneys with trucking companies and insurance clients who were victims in the schemes. In 2019, attorneys representing victims and potential victims identified similarities among at least 30 cases.

Those suspicious accidents included multiple people in a claimant vehicle, sideswipe allegations with commercial vehicle trailers, minimal damage to the claimant vehicle, little to no damage to the insured trailer, and commercial vehicle drivers who are either unaware of or deny fault in a crash.