A federal investigation into staged accidents with trucks in the New Orleans area that seemed to be slowing a bit in recent months came back this month with a roar.
Prosecutors announced five more indictments and seemed to be closing in on yet-to-be-identified lawyers involved in the scam to intentionally cause automobile accidents with tractor-trailers to defraud trucking and insurance companies.
U.S. Attorney Duane Evans for the Eastern District of Louisiana earlier this month announced the indictments of Antone Clark, 33; Shirley Harris, 38; Adonte Turner, 25; and Tiffany Turner, 52, all of New Orleans; and Dimitri Frazier, 31, of Westwego, La.
The five defendants were charged with one count of` conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Clark and Harris also were charged with two counts of wire fraud.
The indictment also alleges that five unidentified “co-conspirators” participated in furtherance of the conspiracies. One of the co-conspirators mentioned in the latest indictment, Cornelius Garrison, an alleged ringleader, was murdered in September 2020, amid reports that he had been cooperating with federal investigators. His death occurred only four days after he was indicted.
If convicted, all five face a maximum penalty of five years for the conspiracy count. Clark and Harris also face up to twenty 20 years on the wire fraud counts.
The new indictment brings to about 60 the number of individuals who have been charged, pleaded guilty or been sentenced in the federal investigation known as “Operation Sideswipe.” The government has estimated that as many as 150 staged accidents with trucks have occurred in recent years and that scammers have collected judgments totaling millions of dollars dating to 2015 in fraudulent lawsuits.
According to the latest indictment, defendants Clark and Harris intentionally collided with a tractor-trailer operated by God’s Way Trucking of Statesboro, Ga., on April 24, 2017, in the area of Interstate 10 near the Crowder Boulevard exit in New Orleans.
The indictment also alleges that on Nov. 13, 2017, Frazier, A. Turner and T. Turner intentionally struck a tractor-trailer operated by Whitestone Transportation of Moselle, Miss., in the area of Interstate 10 near Paris Road in New Orleans.
All five are accused of making false police reports, filing fraudulent lawsuits, lying during deposition testimony and seeking unnecessary medical treatment to support their fraudulent claims.
The two trucking companies were insured by Canal Insurance Co. of Greenville, S.C.
So far, the only attorney representing the scammers, Danny Keating Jr., has been charged in the investigation. However, there have been references to several other unidentified attorneys in the “factual basis” of Keating’s plea agreement that are believed to have represented the accident scammers in fraudulent lawsuits. None has yet been charged.
Although Keating was first charged in late 2020, he has yet to be sentenced. His sentencing has been postponed several times.
The new indictment was the latest development in the so-called crash-for-cash schemes against unknowing truckers. Prosecutors said each of the schemes has been orchestrated by a “slammer,” or driver, paid by a local attorney who filed fraudulent lawsuits against the trucking companies on behalf of the participants in the staged accidents.
Trucking companies that travel through the New Orleans area have since 2019 been alerted to the staged accidents by attorneys with trucking companies and insurance clients who were victims in the schemes. In 2019, attorneys representing victims and potential victims identified similarities among at least 30 separate cases.
Nearly all of the staged accidents have included multiple people in a claimant vehicle, sideswipe allegations with commercial vehicle trailers, minimal damage to the claimant vehicle, little to no damage to the insured trailer and commercial vehicle drivers who are either unaware of or have denied fault in a crash.
The FBI, Louisiana State Police and the Metropolitan Crime Commission have been participating in the investigation.