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September 1, 2020 5:30 PM, EDT

Southeastern Motor Freight Files RICO Lawsuit in La. Staged Accidents Case

GavelSoutheastern Motor Freight alleges in the lawsuit that it was defrauded by attorney D. Patrick Keating of Nugent Keating law firm, saying Keating conspired with Damian Labeaud and Mario Solomon in two June 2017 staged accidents. (Getty Images)

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A New Orleans motor carrier has filed a federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act civil lawsuit against a New Orleans attorney and two convicted participants in a pair of staged accidents with tractor-trailers in 2017.

The carrier, Southeastern Motor Freight Inc., alleged in the lawsuit that it was defrauded by attorney D. Patrick Keating of Nugent Keating law firm, saying Keating conspired with Damian Labeaud and Mario Solomon in two staged accidents. Earlier this year, Labeaud pleaded guilty to being a ringleader in the incidents, and Solomon admitted to being a “spotter,” or driver of a trailing vehicle, in the intentional crashes with tractor-trailers.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court Sept. 1, alleged that personal injury attorney Keating paid the participants in the crashes in return for referrals of other members of the fraud ring, who would falsely claim to be injured in the accidents and blame the truck drivers for the collisions. Keating was identified in the lawsuit as “Attorney A,” who has been unnamed in a 2019 indictment charging the group with fraud. Four other unidentified attorneys have been cited in federal indictments.

The lawsuit alleges the two accidents took place between the Danziger Bridge and the intersection of Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road in New Orleans. (Google Maps)

In both incidents, the individuals named in the federal fraud indictments blamed the truck drivers for causing the crashes. However, Keating — who was unnamed in a slate of indictments — has not been charged with a crime.

“Southeastern Motor Freight Inc. was a victim of a racketeering enterprise and scheme existing between Mr. Keating of Nugent Keating law firm, Mr. Labeaud and Mr. Solomon to conspire to stage multiple accidents involving tractor-trailers for the purpose of defrauding the owner of the tractor-trailer and its insurer in a bodily injury claim arising out of the staged accident, and to conspire to commit wire fraud in connection with the staged accidents,” the Sept. 1 lawsuit alleged.

The federal investigation revealed that Labeaud has filed five personal injury lawsuits as a plaintiff during the past eight years, all of which involve similar sideswipe automobile accidents at or near the location of the alleged subject accident in this lawsuit.

“Additionally, Mr. Labeaud’s relatives and/or associates have filed other lawsuits as plaintiffs involving accidents with strikingly similar factual scenarios as the subject accident alleged in this case,” the lawsuit said.

READ MORE: 11 More Indicted in Staged Accidents With Trucks in New Orleans

In federal court documents, it was alleged that “Attorney A” knew that Labeaud was staging accidents and that “Attorney A” paid Labeaud for at least 40 illegally staged automobile accidents.

“It’s going to be a long process,” Randy Guillot, president and owner of Southeastern Motor Freight, said of the lawsuit. “At the end of the day, the trucking industry is on the receiving side of so much of this fraudulent activity, that it’s about time that we stand up for what’s right. It’s about time that we stand up as an industry.”

Guillot also is current chairman of American Trucking Associations.

If successful, a RICO lawsuit could result in a plaintiff being awarded triple monetary damages. RICO is a U.S. law, enacted in 1970, that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise.

The lawsuit specifically references two staged accidents three years ago in which Southeastern was a victim. The lawsuit alleged that the first incident occurred June 6, 2017, between the Danziger Bridge and the intersection of Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road in New Orleans. A second crash, on June 12, 2017, occurred at the same location.

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“A petition for damages was filed by attorneys, Keating and the Nugent Keating law firm, on behalf of all plaintiffs,” the lawsuit said. “Plaintiffs alleged that [Southeastern truck driver] Michael Smith was traveling in the center westbound lane of Chef Highway, and that he changed lanes and sideswiped plaintiffs’ vehicle traveling in the right westbound lane of Chef Highway. Plaintiffs alleged that Mr. Smith was negligent and the sole cause of the accident at issue, and alleged numerous damages in discovery including property damage and bodily injury.”

The lawsuit alleged that Keating “established, financed, owned, operated and/or participated” in the management of law offices presenting the fraudulent claims at issue and/or in the providing of legal services to personal injury plaintiffs for the fraudulent claims at issue in furtherance of the enterprise.

“This sort of behavior and conduct has to stop,” said Southeastern’s attorney, Douglas Williams of Baton Rouge, La. “It undermines the courts, and it undermines the practice of medicine when you have people that deliberately and fraudulently stage accidents, particularly when you have an attorney who is an officer of the court actively participate.”

An unidentified woman who answered the phone at the Nugent Keating law firm replied, “No comment,” and hung up the phone on a reporter seeking comment.

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