In the ongoing probe into staged accidents, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Peter G. Strasser announced the first indictment of an attorney involved in the staging of accidents in the New Orleans area. Strasser announced the indictment of Danny Patrick Keating Jr. on Nov. 5. In previous announcements from the U.S. Attorney’s office, Keating was identified as Attorney A.
He was charged in a one-count federal indictment with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371. If convicted, Keating faces a maximum term of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain to the defendant or twice the gross loss to any victim of the offense. In addition, Keating faces a term of supervised release of up to three years after his release from prison.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s indictment, Keating was a personal injury attorney licensed to practice law in the state of Louisiana. He was charged with conspiring with Damian Labeaud and others to defraud insurance companies, commercial carriers and trucking companies in a scheme involving intentionally staging automobile accidents.
According to the indictment, Labeaud referred staged accidents to Keating and other New Orleans personal injury attorneys referenced in previous indictments as Attorneys A, B and C, for $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. The indictment alleges that on July 17, 2017, Keating gave Labeaud $15,000 so that Labeaud could purchase a $15,000 cashier’s check to buy Mario Solomon’s truck.
Solomon pled guilty May 28, 2020, to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud arising from staged accidents involving tractor-trailer rigs in the city of New Orleans. Solomon admitted, in a signed summary of the case against him, to playing a role in two staged accidents that took place near the Danziger Bridge on Chef Menteur Highway in June 2017.
Additionally, on Sept. 25, 2017, Keating wrote a $17,000 check to himself for “advertising” and used the proceeds to purchase a $17,000 cashier’s check payable to Labeaud. The indictment also alleges Keating paid Labeaud another $12,500 in checks during the month of June 2017.
According to the indictment, Keating knowingly paid Labeaud for 31 illegally staged tractor-trailer accidents. Keating represented 77 plaintiffs involved in the 31 accidents staged by Labeaud. Keating settled 17 of the 31 staged accidents, and his clients received approximately $1,500,000 in settlement resulting from representation of his clients involved in the staged accidents. Keating kept approximately $358,000 in attorney’s fees.
The indictment alleges that Labeaud and Keating sometimes discussed the staging of accidents before the accidents happened and communicated with coded language regarding the staged accidents. Keating wanted Labeaud to change the locations of the staged accidents, vary the number of passengers, avoid talking to the police, and avoid cameras. Keating also told his clients that they would likely receive more money in settlement if they received medical treatment.
Labeaud pled guilty Aug. 6, 2020, to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud arising from staged accidents involving tractor-trailer rigs. He admitted to being the driver or “slammer” in two accidents that took place on June 6, 2017, and June 12, 2017. As the “slammer,” Labeaud intentionally caused collisions with tractor-trailer rigs.
Keating filed lawsuits in state and federal courts in Louisiana on behalf of his clients who were involved in the staged accidents. The lawsuits filed on behalf of the 77 plaintiffs 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 the staged accidents from the Eastern District of Louisiana to various out-of-state locations. The indictment alleges that in many cases, clients of Keating provided false testimony in depositions taken in conjunction with lawsuits filed by Keating.
In addition, the U.S. Attorney announced the guilty pleas of four more defendants, Marvel Francois, Roderick Hickman, Bernell Gale and Troy Smith. These four guilty pleas bring the total number of guilty pleas to 11 of the 33 indicted defendants in the staged accident probe.
Francois, who pled guilty Oct. 27, 2020, to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, figured in two wrecks caused by “slammer” Labeaud on May 17, 2017. In the first one, she was a “spotter” in another vehicle as Labeaud crashed a 2004 F-150 pickup truck into a 2006 Freightliner tractor-trailer that was merging onto the Pontchartrain Expressway from Calliope Street.
About an hour later, according to court records, she was a passenger in a 2007 Dodge Durango that Labeaud crashed into a 2017 Peterbilt tractor-trailer turning from Chickasaw Street onto Louisa Street. Francois presented herself as the driver to police after Labeaud had slipped away in another vehicle with a “spotter.”
The first wreck resulted in a $10,000 payout, and two lawsuits were filed over the second wreck, but no money was paid to settle the lawsuits, and according to court documents filed in federal court, the passengers were referred to the attorneys who paid Labeaud to stage the accidents.
In documents filed with the federal court, Hickman was the “slammer” who crashed a 2007 Mercury Mountaineer into a 2017 Freightliner tractor-trailer at the intersection of Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road on March 27, 2017. After Hickman struck the tractor-trailer, he fled the scene with Labeaud, who was a “spotter” in a nearby getaway vehicle.
Gale and Smith were involved in a staged accident with Labeaud, Francois and an unidentified passenger in the vicinity of Louisa Street and Chickasaw Street. Labeaud fled the scene in the “spotter” vehicle. Francois falsely reported to the New Orleans Police Department that she had been driving and that the tractor-trailer had struck her vehicle.
Hickman, Gale and Smith, pled guilty on Oct.21, 2020, to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
In addition, according to court documents, the passengers were referred to attorneys who paid Hickman and Labeaud to stage the accidents. The victim trucking and insurance companies paid out $277,500 in total for these fraudulent claims.
In some instances, the attorneys knew that the accident victims were uninjured but referred them to medical providers for treatment to increase the value of subsequent lawsuits.
Hickman, Gale and Smith are to be sentenced Feb. 10, 2021, before U.S. District Judge Lance M. Africk. Francois is to be sentenced Feb. 24, 2021, before Africk. They each face a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain to the defendant or twice the gross loss to any victim.
Labeaud’s sentencing is set for Feb. 18, 2021, before U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon.