NEW ORLEANS — Three more participants in a Louisiana insurance ring, dubbed Operation Sideswipe, that targeted heavy-duty commercial trucks pleaded guilty this week, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. One of the three is an attorney.
On Thursday, June 17, Danny Patrick Keating Jr., 52, a New Orleans-based personal injury attorney, entered a guilty plea to charges of Conspiracy to Commit Mail and Wire Fraud before Chief U.S. District Court Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown.
Keating was one of 33 defendants charged in the federal probe. So far, 22 of the 33 have entered guilty pleas in federal court.
According to the guilty plea, Keating admitted to conspiring with Damian Labeaud and others to defraud insurance companies, commercial carriers and trucking companies in by intentionally staging automobile accidents in New Orleans.
Labeaud referred “victims” of staged accidents to Keating and other New Orleans personal injury attorneys for a payment of $1,000 per passenger for accidents involving tractor-trailers and $500 per passenger for accidents not involving tractor-trailers. Keating advanced Labeaud thousands of dollars for these accidents and instructed Labeaud that he owed Keating a certain number of accidents based on the amount of money advanced.
In one instance, on July 17, 2017, Keating gave Labeaud $15,000 so Labeaud could purchase a $15,000.00 Chase Bank cashier’s check to buy Mario Solomon’s truck. Solomon, a spotter who worked with Labeaud in staging automobile accidents, pleaded guilty in federal court May 28, 2020, and was sentenced Jan. 22, 2021.
Then, on Sept. 25, 2017, Keating wrote a $17,000.00 check to himself for “advertising” and used the proceeds to purchase a $17,000 cashier’s check payable to Labeaud. The indictment alleges Keating paid Labeaud another $12,500 during June 2017.
Keating admitted he knowingly paid Labeaud for a total of 31 illegally staged tractor-trailer accidents and that he represented 77 plaintiffs involved in the 31 accidents staged by Labeaud; Keating settled 17 of the 31 staged accidents. The indictment charged that Keating and his clients received approximately $1,500,000 in settlements resulting from the staged accidents, and that Keating kept approximately $358,000 in attorney’s fees.
Keating also admitted he filed lawsuits in state and federal court in Louisiana on behalf of his clients who were involved in the staged accidents. The lawsuits fraudulently alleged who was driving the vehicles, misrepresented who was at fault in the staged accidents, and falsely claimed injuries. Keating used the U.S Postal Service to mail settlement demands on behalf of his clients who were involved in staged accidents from the Eastern District of Louisiana to various out-of-state locations. In many cases, Keating’s clients provided false testimony in depositions taken in conjunction with lawsuits he filed.
Keating faces a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain to the defendant or twice the gross loss to any person of the offense under Title 18, United States Code, Section 3571. He also faces a term of supervised release up to 3 years after his release from prison. Sentencing is scheduled for January.
Two other participants in the ring pleaded guilty Wednesday, June 16, 2021, before U.S. District Court Judge Sarah S. Vance.
Doniesha Gibson, 29, of New Orleans, and Erica Lee Thompson, 46, of Harvey, Louisiana, entered guilty pleas to Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud in relation to staged automobile accidents in New Orleans.
According to the guilty pleas, Gibson and Thompson, along with their co-conspirators and others — beginning in about 2015 and continuing through the present — conspired to commit wire fraud in connection with staged accidents with Cornelius Garrison.
Gibson admitted to being a passenger in a staged accident on Oct. 15, 2015. On that day, Garrison intentionally drove a 2014 Dodge Avenger owned by Gibson into a Hotard bus while traveling on I-10 near the I- 510 flyover. Gibson then retained an attorney and made a claim for damages. The total settlement for the Hotard bus accident was approximately $677,500.
Thompson admitted that on Sept. 6, 2017, near the Almonaster exit on I-10, she was a passenger in a 2015 RAV4, owned by Thompson and driven by Garrison, when he intentionally crashed into a tractor-trailer owned by Averitt Express. Thompson retained counsel and made a claim for damages. The total settlement for the Averitt accident was $30,000.
In total, the victim trucking, bus and insurance companies paid approximately $707,500 for the two fraudulent claims.
Gibson and Thompson each face a maximum sentence of five years of incarceration. Upon release from prison, each also faces a term of supervised release of up to three years, and/or a fine of $250,000 or the greater of twice the gross gain to each defendant or twice the gross loss to any person. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 3, 2021.