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October 19, 2020 1:45 PM, EDT

Four More Individuals Indicted in Staged Accidents Scam in La.

C.R. England truckThe latest indictment in the staged accidents scam alleges that four defendants intentionally used a vehicle to stage an accident in October 2015 with a tractor-trailer owned by C.R. England. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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Four others have been indicted in connection with a sweeping federal investigation into staged accidents with commercial vehicles in the New Orleans area, amounting to 32 charged or pleading guilty in local accident scams since last year.

The four new defendants were charged Oct. 16 with a three-count federal indictment — one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and two counts of mail fraud. If convicted, they face a maximum penalty of five years for count one and 20 years for counts two and three. After their release from prison, each of the participants face a $250,000 fine for each count and up to five years supervised released.

The indictment alleges that the four defendants intentionally used a vehicle to stage an accident in October 2015 with a tractor-trailer owned by C.R. England in order to defraud the carrier and its insurance companies. In total, England and its insurance company in 2019 paid approximately $4.7 million for the fraudulent claims associated with the staged accident. C.R. England ranks No. 26 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

Those charged in the federal indictment — Anthony Robinson, 66; Audrey Harris, 53; Jerry Schaffer, 65; and Keishira Robinson, 25 — are all from New Orleans, according to a statement by Peter Strasser, U. S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

The indictment alleges that a co-conspirator intentionally struck the 18-wheeler and then was picked up from the collision site by Damian Labeaud, who pleaded guilty to a previous indictment charging him with being a ringleader of a previous scheme with seven others involved in staging truck and automobile accidents. Robinson, who had been in Labeaud’s vehicle, then got behind the wheel of his own vehicle to make it appear that he had been driving at the time of the staged accident, according to the indictment.

The passengers of the staging vehicle were referred to an unnamed attorney who paid Labeaud and the co-conspirator to stage accidents. All of the defendants were treated by doctors and health care providers at the direction of their attorneys, and Robinson, Harris and Schaffer underwent surgeries as part of the fraudulent scheme.

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The current and prior indictments have referred to at least three unnamed attorneys, plus doctors “known to the grand jury.” However, none of the attorneys or doctors accused of participating in the scams have yet been charged.

News of the staged accidents in the New Orleans area was first reported in March 2019 for incidents involving two tractor-trailers in 2017. The initial round of indictments returned by the grand jury last year was dubbed the “tip of the iceberg” by attorneys representing trucking companies, including victims Covenant Transportation Group of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Southeastern Motor Freight Inc. of Jefferson, La. They marked the first such criminal charges brought by federal, state and local authorities in New Orleans investigating what at the time was believed to be a string of similar instances.

Trucking companies that travel through the New Orleans area have since been alerted to the scams by attorneys with trucking companies and insurance clients who were victims in the scheme. In 2019, the attorneys identified similarities among a string of 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, according to the trucking attorneys.

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