NEW ORLEANS — On June 23, James “Curtis” Williams, 66, of Gibson, Louisiana, and Ryan Wheaten, 53, of Lafayette, Louisiana, entered guilty pleas to conspiracy to commit mail fraud before U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk. The two face charges as participants in “Operation Sideswipe,” an insurance scam that centered around staged automobile accidents with tractor-trailers occurring in New Orleans.
According to the guilty plea, on March 27, 2017, Williams conspired with co-defendants Tanya Givens, John Diggs and Lois Russell to stage an accident with a tractor-trailer at the intersection of Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road. Damien Labeaud and Roderick Hickman, who have pleaded guilty to staging other accidents, also participated in this accident. Hickman, while driving Russell’s car, intentionally struck the 18-wheeler and then fled the scene with Labeaud. Russell advised officers with the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) that she was the driver; then she, along with Williams, Givens and Diggs, made claims for personal injuries. In total, the victim trucking and insurance companies paid out approximately $272,500 for these fraudulent claims. Williams joined Hickman, Russell, Givens and Diggs in pleading guilty to this staged accident.
On May 17, 2017, Wheaten, along with participants Labeaud, Mario Solomon, Henry Randle and Dakota Diggs participated in a staged automobile accident near U.S. Highway 90 East and Calliope Street. Labeaud and Solomon fled the scene. Randle falsely reported to the NOPD that he had been driving and that the tractor-trailer struck his vehicle. Shortly afterward, Labeaud and Solomon staged a second accident in the vicinity of Louisa and Chickasaw streets. After the staged accident, Wheaten, Randle, and Dakota Diggs made claims for personal injuries. The victim trucking and insurance companies paid out approximately $10,000 for these fraudulent claims. Bernell Gale, Troy Smith, Marvel Francois and another passenger were also involved. Wheaten, Labeaud, Solomon, Gale, Smith and Francois were all charged; all have now pleaded guilty.
Both Williams and Wheaten face a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment. Upon release from prison, the two also face a term of supervised release 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 under Title 18, United States Code, Section 371. The sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 27, 2021.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Louisiana State Police and the Metropolitan Crime Commission all aided in the case. The prosecution is being handled by assistant U.S. attorney Edward Rivera, assistant U.S. attorney Maria Carboni, assistant U.S. attorney Shirin Hakimzadeh and assistant U.S. attorney Brian M. Klebba, supervisor of the financial crimes unit.
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.