Five out of eight defendants in an investigation regarding staged truck accidents in New Orleans–which brought fraudulent lawsuits–pleaded guilty in late January, an act which brought further scrutiny upon the remaining defendants awaiting their trials.
Those three, including the alleged ringleader, were all involved in the money fraud scheme, but were not part of the plea bargains. However, one passed away in 2019.
Of this group, two drivers and three passengers in two separate accidents involving 18-wheelers plead guilty before US. District Judge Eldon Fallon to both conspiracy and wire fraud.
In the plea agreements filed in the U.S. court in the Eastern District of New Orleans, four of the defendants confessed–Lucinda Thomas, 63; Mary Wade, 55; Judy Williams, 59; and Dashontae Young, 25, all from Houma. These four left Houma and ended up in an accident in June 2017 near the Danziger Bridge.
Larry Williams, 46, a fifth defendant from New Orleans, admitted he was also a part of a staged accident six days later with a truck in the same area.
Additionally, another two individuals named in the indictment–Damian Lebeaud and Mario Soloman–are currently under federal investigation for their involvement. Two attorneys are also under investigation, according to court documents.
Labeaud was described by federal investigators as conspiring directly with “Attorney A” before and after the fraudulent accidents. Both incidents in the indictment were followed by lawsuits filed by attorney Daniel Patrick Keating.
Group members filed lawsuits after the stagings occured in order to “defraud and obtain money and property from insurance and trucking companies.” Some were seeking up to $1 million in damages.
A local news station’s investigative series dubbed “Highway Robbery” found that Attorney A is in fact Keating–based on his phone number being the one cited in court filings and by federal authorities as the one Labeaud would call regarding the accidents.
“Attorney A and Labeaud met at a restaurant in New Orleans,” said the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “During their meeting, Attorney A and Labeaud agreed that Attorney A would pay Labeaud $1,000 per passenger for staged and legitimate accidents with tractor-trailers.”
In addition, the indictment showed that Thomas had undergone neck surgery because “Attorney A” said she “would get more money through the lawsuit if she had the surgery.”
In the pleas filed on January 30th in federal court, the first staged incident is cited as occurring on June 6th, 2017, followed by a second on June 12, 2017. Both accidents took place in New Orleans, and some of the scammers said they were treated by doctors “known to the grand jury at the direction of one of the attorneys.”
According to the plea agreements, those pleading guilty faced a $250,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
Covenant Transportation Group had a truck involved in one of the staged accidents. The group’s representation apparently spent months investigating the fraudulent incident, scouring cell phone and cell tower records, analyzing dash cam and police body cam videos, and researching other documents that they ended up releasing to the FBI.
Over three months, the transport company’s team worked to find substantial evidence, eventually gathering enough to file documents in the civil suits claiming fraudulent activity.
This isn’t the only incident of its kind, either. Throughout 2019, New Orleans trucking fleets were warned about multiple suspicious incidents taking place after a notable “fake accident” lawsuit against Whitestone Transportation out of Mississippi.
In a series of at least 30 different suspicious accident cases, many similarities have been noticed. Almost all of these staged accidents take place around New Orleans, include multiple passengers in a claimant vehicle, involve sideswipe allegations against commercial vehicle trailers, have minimal damage to the claimant vehicle, have little or no damage to the trailer, and involve a commercial vehicle driver who either denies the crash or is unaware of it.
Regarding the most recent indictment, the U.S. Attorney’s office wrote in a press release: “Attorney A knew Labeaud was staging an accident and Attorney A paid Labeaud for at least 40 illegally staged automobile accidents. In addition, Labeaud and Attorney A would discuss the staging of accidents before they happened.”