Scammers Admit Staging Crashes with Big Rigs to Defraud Trucking Companies
New Orleans, LA – Five people involved in plots to stage crashes with big rigs and then demand multi-million dollar payouts pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges last month.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Larry Williams, 46, of New Orleans; Lucinda Thomas, 63, of Houma, LA; Mary Wade, 55, of Houma; Judy Williams, 59, of Houma; and Dashontae Young, 25, of Houma; each pleaded guilty on January 30, 2020, to Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud
The charges stem from one of the staged accidents that occurred on June 6, 2017.
Anatomy of a Staged Crash
According to court documents, Thomas, Wade, Williams, and Young conspired with Damian Labeaud, age 47, for the purpose of staging an automobile accident in order to obtain money through fraud.
Thomas, Wade, Williams, and Young agreed to allow Labeaud to drive Thomas’s 2009 Chevrolet Avalanche vehicle, the plea agreement says.
The defendants then drove around the vicinity of Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road of New Orleans until they located a 2017 Freightliner tractor-trailer, operated by Arkansas-based trucking company, Southern Refrigerated Transport (SRT).
SRT is owned by Chattanooga, TN-based Covenant Transport.
At approximately 12:30 p.m., Labeaud intentionally collided with the big rig, court documents say.
He then exited Thomas’s vehicle and instructed Thomas to get behind the wheel of the Avalanche to make it appear that Thomas was driving the vehicle at the time of the staged accident.
Thomas, Wade, Williams, and Young then contacted the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) and “falsely reported” that Thomas had been the driver of the Avalanche and that the SRT big rig had struck her vehicle.
Labeaud then returned to the scene and “made false statements to the NOPD that he had witnessed the accident and that the driver of the tractor-trailer had been at fault.
Attorney Pays Conspirators
Further, before and after the staged accident, Labeaud contacted an attorney, named only as “Attorney A,” and arranged a meeting with the defendants at a fast food restaurant on Chef Menteur Highway.
Attorney A paid Labeaud $7,500 on the day of the staged accident.
Attorney A then demanded approximately $1 million in a settlement for each Thomas, Wade, and Williams.
He then filed two lawsuits in the Civil District Court (CDC) for the Parish of Orleans, which were subsequently removed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Thomas, Wade, and Williams each provided “false testimony in various depositions taken in conjunction with the lawsuits” filed by Attorney A, their plea agreements say.
Thomas, Wade, and Williams settled their cases for $7,500 each after a year of pursuing the multi-million dollar payout.
Attorney A Demands More Than $100,000 in Second Staged Crash
Also as part of Williams’s plea agreement, he admitted he conspired with Labeaud, Mario Solomon, and Genetta Isreal to stage an accident on June 12, 2017, that occurred on Chef Mentuer Highway near the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans.
Williams says he recruited Isreal and another individual (now deceased) to participate in the fraudulent scheme.
Williams says he borrowed a Chevrolet Trailblazer, and that Labeaud operated the Trailblazer to collide with a 2015 Peterbilt tractor-trailer.
After the staged accident, Labeaud fled the scene and Williams got behind the wheel to make it appear that he was operating the Trailblazer during the staged accident.
Solomon then picked up Labeaud.
Williams told the NOPD that he was the driver of the Trailblazer and that the tractor-trailer was at fault.
Following the staged accident, Labeaud introduced Williams and Isreal to Attorney A.
Williams and Isreal were treated by doctors and healthcare providers at the direction of Attorney A.
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Williams claims Attorney A told him that he would get more money if he had shoulder surgery.
On June 12, 2018, Attorney A’s law partner, named only as “Attorney B,” filed a lawsuit in CDC for the Parish of Orleans.
On September 14, 2018, Attorney B demanded approximately $60,000 in settlement for the aforementioned deceased individual and approximately $56,155 in settlement for Isreal.
After the suit was filed, Williams and Isreal each provided false testimony in depositions taken in conjunction with the lawsuit filed by Attorney B.
Thomas, Wade, Young, along with Judy and Larry Williams each face a maximum sentence of five years.
Upon release from prison, they also face a term of supervised release up to three years, and/or a fine of $250,000.
Sentencing is scheduled for May 21, 2020.
Neither Attorney A or B has yet been charged in the conspiracy.
Labeaud, Isreal and Solomon have yet to enter pleas.
Staged Crashes on the Rise
According to multiple local news reports, NOPD notified area-trucking companies last year to be on the lookout for such staged crashes.
In fact, law enforcement reports at least 30 staged crashes involving big rigs occurred just in the New Orleans area last year.
Legal experts advise, and many trucking stakeholders are expressing concern, that staged crashes are on the rise as massive jury verdicts in personal injury cases continue to incentivize such unlawful behavior.