Two Sentenced to Prison in Staged Accident Schemes

More Than 60 Convicted or Charged in New Orleans-Area Scams
I-10 New Orleans
Interstate 10 in New Orleans passing over Lake Charles/Calcasieu River. (Wikicommons)

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Two people in separate allegations of participation in staged accidents with tractor-trailers in the New Orleans area have been sentenced to prison and ordered to pay significant restitution for their schemes to bilk innocent truckers in fraudulent lawsuits.

Joseph Brewton, 57, of Houma, La., was recently sentenced to 18 months in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $554,638.

Roderick Hickman, 52, of Baton Rouge, La., was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution of approximately $5.7 million.

Each pleaded guilty to separate charges of one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Several counts from their original charges were dropped in connection with other staged accidents with tractor-trailers from 2015 and 2017 after the two pleaded guilty.

Prosecutors said that Hickman was referred to attorneys who paid him and another co-defendant to stage the accident. “In some cases, the attorneys knew that the participants were uninjured but referred them to medical providers for treatment to increase the value of subsequent lawsuits. In total, the victim trucking and insurance companies paid out $277,500 for Hickman’s fraudulent claims. Brewton was originally charged with six other individuals in connection with at least four staged accidents.

The two were nabbed by the federal authorities for their participation in staged accidents in the New Orleans area dating to 2015. The investigations were part of the FBI’s “Operation Sideswipe,” with assistance from the Louisiana State Police and the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission.

The latest sentencings bring to more than 60 individuals who have been charged, pleaded guilty or been sentenced in the federal investigation. The government has estimated that as many as 150 staged accidents with trucks have occurred in recent years in the New Orleans area, and that scammers have collected judgments totaling millions of dollars dating to 2015 in fraudulent lawsuits.

The illegal schemes were allegedly overseen by five attorneys, four of whom have not yet been named, but are “known to the grand jury,” according to court documents. One of the attorneys, Danny Keating Jr. of New Orleans, has been charged in the investigation. Although Keating was first charged in late 2020, he has since pleaded guilty, but has not yet been sentenced. His sentencing has been postponed several times.

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The new indictment was the latest development in the so-called crash-for-cash 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 staged accidents.

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 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.