With two more defendants entering guilty pleas, the number of participants in the Louisiana staged accident scam who have taken that step continues to climb, but with a distinct absence of one type of occupation.
That occupation is attorney. By FreightWaves’ count, there have now been at least 15 guilty pleas in the scheme that saw attorneys and what the court refers to as “co-conspirators” recruit individuals to stage accidents with trucks — or in at least one case, a bus — with the goal of getting a large insurance payout. In several cases, it worked, with court documents having revealed at least one payout close to $5 million in a collision involving a C.R. England truck.
In the documents accompanying the latest pair of guilty pleas, filed last week, there are at least five attorneys identified by a letter — A, B, C, D and E — as possibly having a role in the execution of the scam.
Yet only one attorney, Danny Keating, has been indicted so far as a result of involvement in the staged accident scam. The guilty pleas have all come from people who were actually in the cars that collided with unsuspecting truck drivers.
The latest guilty pleas came from James Williams, 66, and Ryan Wheaten, 53, both of Louisiana. The plea was entered last week in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, which has prosecuted all the actions in the case.
According to the sentencing document filed in connection with Wheaten’s plea, he was involved as a passenger in a Ford F-150 that collided with a truck operated by Stevie B.’s Trucking on May 17, 2017.
What’s striking about this particular collision is how little Wheaten received for his participation. According to the court documents, he was sent two advance checks totaling $1,680 for his involvement in the collision with the truck from Stevie B.’s. The final settlement in the case paid to all plaintiffs totaled only $10,000. For that relatively small sum, Wheaten is facing a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
In the case of Williams, the collision he was involved in took place in March 2017. The target in his case was a truck operated by HMNG Trucking. Payouts in that case totaled more than $250,000.
Throughout the documents are references to the various attorneys and their involvement in the aftermath of the staged accidents. There are also separate references to unidentified co-conspirators planning the staged accidents.
For example, in the Williams plea document, co-conspirator B is said to have recommended Williams and other participants visit three of the “alphabet attorneys” for legal representation. But the document also says the lawsuit filed on behalf of Williams and others did not disclose the staging of the accidents. Later, one of the plaintiffs in the case was told by the law firm that included three of the alphabet attorneys that they were withdrawing given concerns that the lawsuit had been “flagged as fraudulent.”
In the Wheaten document, one of the attorneys is said to have called one of the co-conspirators four times on the morning of the Wheaten accident.
In a separate reference to the pursuit of unnecessary medical procedures for those involved in the accidents, the Wheaten document also says that one of the alphabet attorneys told the participants in the accident that “if someone elected to have surgery, he or she could expect to receive a much greater settlement.”