The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Duane A. Evans continues his crusade against the staged accident ring in the New Orleans area through Operation Sideswipe. In the last six months, he has announced the indictment of seven more individuals, the guilty plea of four more people, and the sentencing of two defendants.
On Sep. 13, the U.S. Attorney announced that seven more individuals were charged in the staged automobile accident scheme. The individuals charged are Ashley McGowan, Lertrice Johnson, Davienque Johnson, Herbert Allen, Troylynn Brown, Dion Ridley, and Jarvis Brown. These seven defendants were charged in a four count federal indictment.
All seven were charged in count one with conspiracy to commit mail fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371. McGowan, L. Johnson and D. Johnson were charged in count two with mail fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1341 and 1342. Allen, T. Brown, Ridley, and J. Brown were charged in counts three and four with mail fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1341 and 1342.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of five years for count one, and 20 years for counts two, three and four. In addition, each defendant upon release from prison can be placed on a term of supervised release for up to five years and a fine up to $250,000 per count.
The indictment charges these defendants with conspiring among themselves and with others to stage automobile accidents with tractor-trailers in order to defraud trucking and insurance companies.
The first staged accident occurred on June 8, 2016, when McGowan, L. Johnson, and D. Johnson conspired with Damien Labeaud, Keishira Robinson and others to intentionally collide with a tractor-trailer in the area of Chickasaw Street and Louisa Street in New Orleans. After the collision, the three defendants lied in depositions, falsely claiming that K. Robinson was driving the car that collided with the tractor-trailer, when in fact Labeaud was driving the car. The defendants also falsely claimed that McGowan was riding in the car at the time of the collision, even though she was riding in the spotter or getaway car and only entered the slammer car after the collision occurred. Labeaud and K. Robinson have been charged in previous indictments and pled guilty to their role in the staged automobile accident scheme.
The second intentional collision occurred on June 28, 2017, and involved defendants Allen, T. Brown, Ridley, and J. Brown. Each of these defendants was a passenger in a car that intentionally collided with a tractor-trailer on the corner of Calliope Street and Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans. The driver of the car at the time was Roderick Hickman. These four defendants lied in depositions, falsely claiming that Allen was the one driving the car. After the accident, Hickman got into the getaway car that was being driven by Labeaud. Hickman was previously charged and has pled guilty to staging automobile accidents.
According to the indictment, Labeaud and Hickman received payments for referring the defendants to attorneys who would handle the cases. The defendants were treated by doctors and healthcare providers at the direction of their attorneys. In addition, through their attorneys, the defendants secured settlements from the insurance companies who insured the commercial carriers.
The defendants who have pled guilty in the last six months are Dewayne Coleman, Aug. 11, 2021; Aisha Thompson, Oct. 6, 2021; Chandrika Brown, Nov. 17, 2021, and Donisha Lee, Jan. 12, 2022.
Coleman, Thompson and Lee all admitted that on Sep. 6, 2017, on I-10 near the Almonaster exit, they were passengers in a 2015 Rav4 that was intentionally crashed into a tractor-trailer. The alleged occupants of the car contacted the New Orleans Police Department and made false claims about who was driving the car at the time of the accident. Coleman, Thompson and Lee retained counsel and made claims for damages. The total settlement for the accident with the Averitt Express tractor-trailer was $30,000.
In addition, on March 26, 2019, Coleman, Thompson and Lee all provided false testimony in depositions taken in conjunction with the lawsuit. In their deposition, Coleman, Thompson and Lee all lied about the Sept. 6, 2017, accident including, but not limited to, who was driving the vehicle and the extent of their injuries. Coleman, Thompson and Lee each face a maximum sentence of five years of incarceration, a term of supervised release at the end of incarceration for up to three years, and/or a fine of $250,000.
Brown, according to her guilty plea, claimed that on Oct.15 she was a passenger in a vehicle that was hit be a Hotard bus while traveling on I-10 near the flyover of I-510.
Brown, along with the other passengers in the vehicle falsely stated that the Hotard bus illegally changed lanes and caused the accident. Brown and the other occupants of the vehicle each retained counsel and made demands against Hotard’s owner and insurer for personal injury damages. As a result of the claims, the insurer utilized the U.S. mail to send settlement drafts to Brown and the other defendant’s counsel. The total settlement for the Hotard bus accident was approximately $677,500.
Brown faces a maximum sentence of five years of incarceration, a term of supervised release at the end of incarceration for up to three years, and/or a fine of $250,000.
These four guilty pleas bring the number of defendants convicted in Operation Sideswipe to 30.
The two defendants who were sentenced were Genetta Isreal and Ryan Wheaten.
Isreal was sentenced Dec. 16, 2021, for conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with a staged accident on June 12, 2017. Isreal was a passenger in a vehicle that collided with a tractor-trailer on Chef Menteur Highway near the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans. After the accident, Labeaud introduced Isreal and the other passengers to attorney Daniel Patrick Keating.
Isreal was treated by doctors and healthcare providers at the direction of Keating. Keating filed a lawsuit on behalf of Isreal demanding $56,155. After the lawsuit was filed, Isreal provided false testimony in depositions taken in conjunction with the lawsuit filed by Keating’s firm.
U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon sentenced Isreal to three years of probation with the first six months to be served under home incarceration. In addition, Isreal was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $28,816.64 and a $100 mandatory special assessement fee.
Keating pled guilty for his role in the staged accident schemes.
Wheaten was sentenced on Jan. 12, 2022, for conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with a staged accident on May 17, 2017. Wheaten was a passenger in a vehicle that collided with a tractor-trailer on U.S. Highway 90 East and Calliope Street in New Orleans. After the accident, Wheaten made claims for personal injury and the victim insurance companies paid out approximately $10,000 for these fraudulent claims.
U.S. District Judge Lance M Africk sentenced Wheaten to serve 10 months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. In addition, Wheaten was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $11,000 and a $100 mandatory special assessment fee.
So far, Operation Sideswipe has netted 40 indictments and 30 guilty pleas by indicted defendants.