The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Peter G. Strasser indicted nine more people on federal charges in a scheme to crash vehicles into buses and big-rig trucks in the New Orleans area in order to defraud insurance companies.

Cornelius Garrison, Doniesha Gibson, Chandrika Brown, Ishais Price, Aisha Thompson, Dewayne Coleman, Donisesha Lee, Donreion Lee and Erica Lee Thompson, all of the Greater New Orleans area, were charged in a seven-count indictment with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and six counts of mail fraud.

These nine indictments bring the total number of people charged by the United States Attorney with staging automobile accidents to 28.

The federal charges stemmed from investigations into patterns of big-ticket crashes by attorneys representing insurance companies. In different collisions, the insurance companies found family ties among several passengers claiming injuries. Some of them had been involved in accidents with commercial vehicles within weeks of each other.

According to the U. S. Attorney’s office, in this indictment and previous indictments, there were five slammers who intentionally caused motor vehicle accidents with commercial vehicles operating in the New Orleans area. Two alleged slammers, Damian Labeaud and Roderick Hickman, were charged in previous indictments, and the three additional alleged slammers are identified in the indictment as Slammer A, Slammer B and Garrison.

Slammer A and Slammer B were deceased at the time of the indictment, while Garrison was found shot to death in an apartment four days after the announcement of his indictment and two weeks before he was to enter a plea in court.

News sources speculate that Garrison was cooperating with federal prosecutors in the case, and that investigators are examining the possibility that his killing was a hit meant to silence a witness. The New Orleans Police Department and the FBI are jointly investigating Garrison’s killing.

In commenting on the staged accident rings, Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon told The Times Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate, “I’ve never seen it at this large of scale, with such ignorance in the way they operated in the same vicinity, with several of the same participants acting as victims in these scams.

“For a lawyer to get multiple cases in from a source like this individual, who has now unfortunately been murdered, raises antennas for just being beyond the believability of coincidence,” he said.

“The way it works, the lawyers involved in so many big-rig crash cases had to know the fakes,” Donelon said.

In announcing the indictment Sept. 28, the U.S. Attorney’s office said that insurance companies paid out thousands of dollars in claims resulting from staged accidents.

The indictment alleges that the defendants intentionally used vehicles to cause staged motor vehicle accidents with commercial carriers in order to defraud these carriers and their insurance companies. If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of five years for the conspiracy to commit mail fraud and 20 years for the six counts of mail fraud.

According to the indictment, Slammer A taught Garrison how to stage accidents with other vehicles and introduced Garrison to Co-conspirator A, and Slammer B introduced Garrison to Attorney A. In addition, Slammer A and Slammer B routinely worked together to stage accidents for various local personal injury attorneys.

Garrison was accused of staging 50 car wrecks and being paid $150,000 by Co-conspirator A. While Co-conspirator A instructed Garrison as to the number of passengers to use in the staged accidents, he also told him to avoid areas patrolled by the Louisiana State Police and instead stage the accidents in the jurisdiction of the New Orleans Police Department. The indictment alleges that Co-conspirator A referred the staged accident cases to an attorney referenced as Attorney B.

The indictment states that Attorney A was a personal injury attorney licensed to practice in Louisiana and operating an office in New Orleans.

Attorney B, according to the indictment, beginning in or about May 2016 was a personal injury attorney licensed to practice in Louisiana.

Beginning at a time unknown, Co-conspirator A was associated with an office property located in the Eastern District of Louisiana, and from May 2016 until sometime in 2018, Attorney B operated his/her law practice out of the property associated with Co-conspirator A. In addition, Co-conspirator A solicited and/or referred personal injury clients to Attorney B and another unnamed attorney.

According to The Times Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate, it is strongly suggested by the indictment that Attorney B is Vanessa Motta and that Co-conspirator A was Motta’s fianc‚, Sean Alfortish. Alfortish once had an office in Kenner with an address that Motta listed as her workplace.

Motta’s attorney, Dane Ciolino, acknowledged to The Times Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate that federal investigators have spoken to his client about the case and that Garrison’s charging documents do indeed refer to Motta as Attorney B. But, Ciolino maintains Motta’s innocence and noted that the court records stop short of referring to her as a co-conspirator.

According to news sources, this indictment comes about three years after Alfortish finished serving 28 months in federal prison. He pled guilty to rigging an election for the presidency of a nonprofit association for horse racing pros and track workers and to misspending some of the group’s money as president. The guilty plea in that case cost Alfortish his law license.

The news sources also state that Alfortish now works as a medical financier, paying a portion of injured people’s medical bills upfront in exchange for a larger payout if the injured person collects damages from a lawsuit.

Garrison, according to the indictment, staged the accidents mostly on Interstate 10 from Slidell to Baton Rouge, usually at night to avoid eyewitnesses. He targeted commercial vehicles, including tractor-trailers that were changing lanes and would cause the accident by striking the commercial vehicle in the tractor-trailer driver’s blind spot, using the slammer vehicle.

After the staged accident, Garrison would usually exit the vehicle from the passenger side in order to avoid being seen by the driver of the target vehicle. He then would instruct the passengers to call 911 to report that they had been hit by a vehicle. A passenger in the vehicle would falsely claim to have been the driver at the time of the staged accident.

The indictment charges Garrison with staging two accidents. The first staged accident occurred on Oct. 15, 2015, and involved a Hotard Coaches Inc. (Hotard) bus. Garrison intentionally drove a 2014 Dodge Avenger owned by Gibson into the Hotard bus while traveling on I-10 near the flyover of I-510. Also in the vehicle were defendants Brown and Price.

Attorney A filed a lawsuit in Orleans Civil District Court on behalf of Garrison against Hotard; All Aboard America! Inc. Holdings (All Aboard), the parent company of Hotard, and Lancer Insurance Company, the insurer of Hotard and All Aboard.

Attorney B later filed a motion to substitute as Garrison’s counsel in Garrison’s lawsuit and Attorney A withdrew from representing Garrison and filed a petition for intervention in order to protect his/her fees.

In addition, lawsuits were filed in Orleans Civil District Court on behalf of State Farm Fire and Casualty Company as subrogee for Gibson against Hotard, All Aboard and Lancer, and on behalf of Price and Brown against Hotard, All Aboard and Lancer.

The total settlement for the Hotard bus accident was approximately $677,500. The plaintiffs received settlement checks from Hotard, All Aboard and Lancer made payable to the defendants and their attorney. Brown received a $5,000 check, Price received a $12,500 check, Gibson received a $10,000 check, and Garrison received a $650,000 check.

 According to the indictment, three weeks after the settlement checks were endorsed by the defendants, Attorney B issued a check to Garrison in the amount of $80,763.38 in settlement for his fraudulent lawsuit.

The second staged accident in the indictment occurred on Sept. 6, 2017, on I-10 near the Almonaster exit when Garrison crashed defendant Erica Lee’s 2015 RAV4 into a tractor-trailer owned by Averitt Express (Averitt). The passengers in this vehicle were Coleman, Donisesha Lee, Donreion Lee, and an unknown female passenger who gave the name Aisha Thompson to the police after the staged accident.

Averitt was self-insured up to $1,000,000 for vehicle accidents, and ACE American Insurance Company (ACE) provided excess insurance coverage for Averitt. GEICO Insurance Company (GEICO) insured Erica Lee’s vehicle.

A lawsuit was filed on behalf of Erica Lee to recover damages from Averitt and Truck Driver A and a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Thompson, Coleman, Donisesha Lee and Donreion Lee to recover damages from Averitt, ACE, GEICO, Truck Driver A and Erica Lee.

Thompson, Erica Lee, Donisesha Lee and Donreion Lee are related.

The total settlement for the Averitt Express accident was $30,000. The plaintiffs received settlement checks from Averitt and ACE made payable to the defendants and their attorney. Coleman received a $7,500 check; Donreion Lee received a $9,000 check; Donisesha Lee received a $6,000 check, and Thompson received a $7,500 check.

The U.S. Attorney’s office credited the FBI, Louisiana State Police and the Metropolitan Crime Commission for help in the investigation.

Prosecutors on the case are assistant U.S. attorneys Brian Klebba, Edward Rivera and Maria Carboni.