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March 30, 2022 4:37 PM, EDT

Two More Plead Guilty to Staged Accidents in New Orleans

Getty Image conveying the legal systemThe two guilty pleas bring the number of staged-accident scammers convicted to 32 in the federal investigation. (BrianAJackson/Getty Images)

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Two New Orleans women have pleaded guilty in separate conspiracy schemes to stage accidents — one involving a tractor-trailer and the other a bus.

The two guilty pleas bring the number of staged-accident scammers convicted to 32 in the federal investigation, dubbed “Operation Sideswipe,” centering in the New Orleans area. Both of the incidents resulted in large settlements with the companies that actually were the victims in the crashes.



Latrell Johnson, 30, pleaded guilty March 16 to conspiracy to commit mail fraud after falsely claiming that she was a passenger in a car that was struck by a 2013 International tractor-trailer, owned by B.A.H. Express Inc., of Atlanta.

Duane Evans

Evans

Johnson later admitted that she conspired with two other individuals to intentionally collide with the tractor-trailer in the area of Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road in New Orleans, according to U.S. Attorney Duane Evans for Eastern District of Louisiana.

Johnson faces a maximum penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment, a term of supervised release of up to three years and a fine of up to $250,000.

After the intentional collision, Johnson filed a lawsuit claiming that the tractor-trailer was at fault and lied in a deposition. This scheme caused the insurance company for B.A.H. Express to pay over $140,000 in settlement funds for the collision. Johnson is set for sentencing July 13.

In a crash dating to 2015, prosecutors said that Ishais Price, 41, also pleaded guilty to March 23 to conspiracy to commit mail fraud arising out of a staged accident with a bus, owned by Hotard Coaches Inc. of New Orleans, doing business as Hotard Bus lines.

Price originally said the bus illegally changed lanes and caused the collision while traveling on Interstate 10 near the flyover of the I-510.

Price also faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Upon release from prison, Price also faces a term of supervised release of up to three years, and/or a fine of $250,000. Sentencing in the matter is scheduled for June 14.

Price and her co-defendant each retained counsel and made demands against Hotard’s owner and insurer for personal injury damages. As a result of the claims, the insurer utilized the U.S. mail to send the settlement drafts to Price, and her co-defendant driver’s counsel. Prosecutors said the total legal settlement for the Hotard bus crash was approximately $677,500.

To date, at least 40 defendants have been charged in an estimated 100 staged accidents in the New Orleans area, according to prosecutors.

News of the crashes in the New Orleans area first was made public in March 2019 for incidents involving two tractor-trailers in 2017. After the first round of indictments, attorneys representing trucking companies called the scams the “tip of the iceberg.”

Carriers that travel through the area have since been alerted to the scams by attorneys with trucking companies and insurance clients who were victims.

Early on, attorneys representing victims and potential victims identified similarities among at least 30 cases. Those suspicious crashes had similar characteristics, including multiple people in a claimant vehicle, sideswipe allegations with commercial vehicle trailers, minimal damage to a claimant vehicle, little to no damage to the insured trailer and a commercial vehicle driver who is either unaware of, or denies impact.

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So far, one attorney, Danny Patrick Keating Jr., has been charged in a string of staged accidents. At least three other unidentified attorneys have been referenced in federal indictments for participating in the scam but have not yet been charged.

Federal authorities said Keating represented 77 plaintiffs who filed false court claims related to 31 staged accidents. Keating has pleaded guilty and is due to be sentenced April 28.

Prosecutors said the FBI, Louisiana State Police and the Metropolitan Crime Commission have been involved in the investigation.