Three Louisiana Women Sentenced in Staged Accident in New Orleans

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Three southeastern Louisiana residents have been sentenced for their role in a 2017 staged accident in New Orleans with a tractor-trailer.

The three residents, of Houma, La. — Lucinda Thomas, 67, Mary Wade, 58, and Judy Williams, 62 — were sentenced in January to five years’ probation and $43,000 in restitution for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Two others who have admitted to participation in the fraud included Damian Labeaud, a “slammer,” or driver in the crash — and many others — and Dashontae Young, also have pleaded guilty to participating in the June 6, 2017, staged crash with a 2017 Freightliner tractor-trailer. Young and the three women were passengers in the crash automobile.

Young is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 2, and Labeaud is scheduled for sentencing May 25. Danny Patrick Keating, an attorney who admitted to his participation in the scam, is scheduled for sentencing April 27.

Labeaud drove in the intentional crash, but Thomas lied to police saying that she was driving the strike vehicle, a 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche, according to court documents.

Prosecutors said that the three women and Young contacted the New Orleans Police Department and falsely reported that the tractor-trailer, then owned by Southern Refrigerated Transport Inc., had struck their vehicle.

Before and after the crash, Labeaud contacted Keating and arranged a meeting with Thomas, Wade, Williams and Young at a fast-food restaurant. A year later, Keating filed two lawsuits in state court against Southern Refrigerated and its insurer that were transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

All three women provided false testimony in various depositions taken in conjunction with the lawsuits filed by Keating. Each of the women ultimately settled their cases for $7,500 each, according to prosecutors.

To date, there have been more than 40 individuals who have been convicted in the FBI’s ongoing “Operation Sideswipe” investigation, which has included a yet-to-be solved murder of one of the conspirators believed to be working with investigators. Authorities have estimated that as many as 100 accidents over several years have been staged in the New Orleans area against trucks.

So far, only one attorney — Keating — 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 been charged.

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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 scheme. 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 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.