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Nine more people have been indicted in connection with a sweeping federal investigation into staged accidents with commercial vehicles in the New Orleans area, amounting to 28 charged or pleading guilty in local accident scams.
The nine defendants were charged in a Sept. 18 seven-count federal indictment, with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and six counts of mail fraud. The indictment alleges that the defendants intentionally used vehicles to cause staged motor vehicle accidents with commercial motor carriers and buses in order to defraud the carriers and their insurance companies.
The mail fraud charges were tied to the conspirators’ use of mail to route some of their alleged illegal payments.
The nine who were charged face up to 20 years for all seven counts and a $250,000 fine, according to a statement by Peter Strasser, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Those charged in the latest indictment include: Cornelius Garrison, 54, of New Orleans; Doniesha Gibson, 29, of New Orleans; Chandrika Brown, 29, of Slidell, La.; Ishais Price, 49, of New Orleans; Aisha Thompson, 42, of New Orleans; Dewayne Coleman, 21, of Marrero, La.; Donisesha Lee, 30, of Harvey, La.; Donreion Lee, 22, of Harvey, La.; and Erica Lee Thompson, 46, of Harvey, La.
The indictment, along with previous charges, included five “slammers” — individuals who intentionally caused the motor vehicle accidents. Two of the alleged slammers, Damian Labeaud and Roderick Hickman, were charged in previous indictments. Two unnamed additional alleged slammers have since died, according to the statement.
Garrison is alleged to have staged more than 50 accidents and was paid more than $150,000 by an unnamed co-conspirator. The indictment said that Garrison staged accidents mostly on Interstate 10 from Slidell to Baton Rouge and usually at night to avoid eyewitnesses. He 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, according to court documents.
The two staged accidents named in the latest indictment included an Oct. 15, 2015, crash with a Hotard Coaches Inc. bus, and a Sept. 6, 2017, crash with Averitt Express Inc. Hotard Coaches is based in New Orleans, and Averitt Express is based in Cookeville, Tenn., and ranks No. 32 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.
The scammers worked with unnamed attorneys, who filed lawsuits after both accidents that resulted in legal settlements, the indictment said. In total, the victim trucking, bus and insurance companies paid out approximately $707,500 for the two fraudulent accident claims.
Saluting the men and women of the trucking industry who kept America's essential goods flowing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Those working on the case included the FBI, Louisiana State Police and the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission.
The latest round of indictments follows charges filed in August against 11 staged-accident scammers.
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 indictments returned by the grand jury last year were 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 authorities in New Orleans investigating what 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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