NEW ORLEANS — Multiple people have received federal jail time for their roles in a scheme to stage automobile accidents with tractor-trailers in order to collect money from trucking companies.
According to a news release from U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans, 51-year-old David Brown of Morgan City, Louisiana, 70-year-old Gilda Henderson of Morgan City, 30-year-old Latrell Johnson of New Orleans, and 51-year-old Stacie Wheaten of Fairburn, Georgia, were sentenced on Feb. 8 for conspiracy to commit mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.
And on Feb. 14, 62-year-old John Diggs of Thibodaux, Louisiana, and 68-year-old James Williams of Gibson, Louisiana, were both sentenced to 10 months in prison by U.S. District Court Judge Lance M. Africk after they pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.
Law enforcement officials dubbed the scheme “Operation Sideswipe.”
According to court documents, Wheaten and others introduced “slammer” Damien Labeaud, who previously pleaded guilty in the scheme, to attorney Patrick Keating in 2017.
At this meeting, Keating agreed to pay Labeaud for staged automobile collisions, a news release from Evans’s office stated.
Wheaten recruited passengers to participate in staged automobile accidents with tractor-trailers in New Orleans, including on May 17, 2017, and on June 5, 2017. The passengers in these collisions filed fraudulent lawsuits that falsely claimed the tractor-trailers were at fault.
Brown, Henderson and Johnson served as passengers for a collision on May 11, 2017. These defendants conspired with Labeaud and others to intentionally collide with a tractor-trailer in the area of Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road in New Orleans.
“After the intentional collision, Brown, Henderson and Johnson made a false police report, lied in depositions, and/or filed fraudulent lawsuits claiming that the tractor-trailer was at fault,” the news release noted. “As a result of this conduct, the insurance company for the tractor-trailer involved in the May 11, 2017 collision paid over $140,000.00 in settlement funds.”
U.S. District Court Judge Jane Triche Milazzo sentenced Wheaten to serve 18 months in prison, to be followed by two years of supervised release. Wheaten was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $54,000 and a mandatory special assessment fee of $100. Brown, Henderson and Johnson were each sentenced to serve three years of probation. Additionally, Milazzo ordered the three each to pay restitution in the amount of $200,963.59 and a mandatory special assessment fee of $100.
As for Diggs and Williams, court records showed that they conspired with passengers Lois Russell and Tanya Givens to stage an accident with a tractor-trailer at the intersection of Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road in New Orleans.
Robert Hickman, who has already pleaded guilty in connection to the scheme, was driving Russell’s car when he struck the 18-wheeler and then fled the scene with Labeaud. Russell advised New Orleans police that she was the driver and that she, along with Givens, Diggs and Williams, made claims for personal injuries.
In total, the victim trucking and insurance companies paid out $272,500.00 for these fraudulent claims.
In addition to prison, Diggs and Williams were both sentenced to three years of supervised release and a restitution hearing was set for April 5, 2023.
Africk also imposed upon each a $100 mandatory special assessment fee.
The Trucker News Staff produces engaging content for not only TheTrucker.com, but also The Trucker Newspaper, which has been serving the trucking industry for more than 30 years. With a focus on drivers, the Trucker News Staff aims to provide relevant, objective content pertaining to the trucking segment of the transportation industry. The Trucker News Staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.