Three More Sentenced in Staged New Orleans Crashes
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Three more individuals have been sentenced over the past two months for their roles in staged crashes with tractor-trailers in the New Orleans area.
The sentences were the latest development in the so-called crash-for-cash criminal schemes against unknowing truckers. Prosecutors said each of the schemes was 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 the three staged accidents that all occurred in 2017.
So far, the number of men and women busted in the FBI’s “Operation Sideswipe” investigation has reached more than 50, and is likely to continue growing in coming months. The government believes that as many as 150 staged accidents have occurred in the New Orleans area, and dozens of the scammers have collected judgments totaling millions of dollars dating to 2015 in fraudulent lawsuits.
The latest sentences:
- Larry Picou, 57, of Gibson, La., was sentenced to five years probation for conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and pay restitution of $200,000 arising out of a staged automobile accident with a tractor-trailer in 2017. After the intentional collision, Picou and his co-conspirators made false police reports, lied in depositions, and filed fraudulent lawsuits claiming that the tractor-trailer was at fault. The scheme caused the insurance company for the tractor-trailer to pay over $140,000 in settlement funds.
- Lois Russell, 63, of Gibson, La., was sentenced to five years probation for conspiracy to commit mail fraud, for participating in a staged automobile accident in 2017 with several others, using her own car to intentionally crash into a tractor-trailer. According to court documents, Russell lied to New Orleans police, telling officers that she was the driver and that the truck driver was at fault for the accident. She also filed claims for personal injuries. In total, the victim trucking and insurance companies paid out $272,500 in fraudulent claims for the crash, prosecutors said.
- Troylynn Brown, 35, no residence provided, was sentenced to two years in prison for conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with a staged crash in 2017. According to court documents, Brown falsely claimed that one of her fellow passengers in the car was driving during the crash when in fact it was a different “slammer” that participated in an many as 100 staged accidents. Prosecutors said that due to her false statements and deception, Brown secured a $70,000 monetary settlement from the owner and insurer of the tractor-trailer.
Trucking companies that travel through the New Orleans area have since 2019 been alerted to the staged accidents by attorneys with trucking companies and insurance clients who were actually victims in the schemes. In 2019, attorneys representing victims and potential victims identified similarities among at least 30 separate cases.
Nearly all of the staged accidents have 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 have denied fault in a crash.
Prosecutors have said that New Orleans attorney Danny Patrick Keating actually paid “slammers,” or drivers who crashed cars into the trucks, up to $1,000 for each car passenger sitting in the crash vehicle.
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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.
The FBI, Louisiana State Police and the Metropolitan Crime Commission have been participating in the ongoing investigation.
The investigation turned dark in September of 2020. Only four days after he was indicted, one of the alleged ringleaders, Cornelius Garrison, was murdered amid reports that he had been cooperating with federal investigators.