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2 more plead guilty in Louisiana staged accident scheme

32 guilty pleas now among 47 people charged

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

The guilty pleas keep piling up in the Louisiana staged truck accident investigation.The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Duane Evans, has announced two new guilty pleas in the past 10 days, bringing the total to 32. There have been no convictions after a trial in the investigation, because as of yet, no defendants have chosen to go to trial.

When the U.S. attorney’s office announced in February the indictment of seven individuals, it brought the number of people charged in the case to 47. More than two-thirds now have pleaded guilty.

The latest guilty plea, announced Thursday, did not involve a truck. Rather, the woman who pleaded guilty, Ishais Price, 41, was a passenger in a car that was hit by a bus operated by Hotard, a company that provides chartered transportation. According to the U.S. attorney’s announcement of the guilty plea, Price was with three other defendants who already have been charged: Doniesha Gibons, Chanrika Brown and a third who was not identified by name. 

Insurance claims that resulted from the crash in October 2015 resulted in settlement payments of $677,500.

As with all other defendants in the various cases, the participants in the staged accidents were charged with mail fraud.

On March 17, Latrell Johnson, 30, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud, while two other mail fraud charges were dismissed. The staged accident she was involved in was on May 11, 2017, and led to a collision with a truck operated by B.A.H. Express. Johnson was one of the seven people charged in the February indictment, a quick turnaround between indictment and guilty plea.

Both defendants at sentencing face up to five years in prison, three years’ probation and fine of up to $250,000. 

Attorneys identified by letters, only one indicted

In the Johnson indictment, the name of a law firm that Johnson was in contact with was redacted, driving home the point that only one attorney — Danny Keating — has been charged with involvement in the staged accident scheme. Keating pleaded guilty last June. And while the various indictments and guilty pleas refer to multiple attorneys by letters — A, B, C, D and E — no other attorneys have been indicted. 

The indictments differ in detail but have a consistent modus operandi: a team of “slammers” and “spotters” in private cars identified a truck or bus as its target and drove in such a way as to create a collision. Lawsuits followed. In some cases, the plotters received medical care that included surgery, presumably unnecessary, raising the prospect that further indictments may pull in medical personnel.

The few sentences that have been handed out range from home incarceration to four years in prison.

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.