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First sentence in Louisiana staged accidents: less than 2 years

21 months in prison for minor player in scheme who cooperated with investigators

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

The first sentence in the Louisiana staged truck accident scandal has been handed down, with a relatively low-level conspirator getting 21 months behind bars for his role. 

Mario Solomon was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Eldon Fallon to that term in prison, along with three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay restitution of approximately $71,000 to the victims in the case, though it wasn’t immediately clear who the court would identify as the victims beyond the trucking companies that owned the vehicles that were hit by cars. 

Solomon pleaded guilty in May along with six other individuals indicted at the same time he was charged. He pleaded guilty in May and was believed to be cooperating with the office of U.S. Attorney Peter Strasser in its investigation, which so far has led to more than 30 indictments.

All of the defendants in the staged truck accident scheme have been indicted on some combination of wire or mail fraud. Solomon pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. At that time, the U.S. attorney’s office said he was facing a prison term of as much as five years and a fine of as much as $250,000.

The two incidents that led to Solomon’s indictments date back to 2017. The description of what he was charged with doing is largely identical to the actions that serve as the basis for virtually all of the other indictments in the staged accident scandal.

Solomon had admitted to being a “spotter” for the staged accidents allegedly led by Damian Labeaud, viewed as a ringleader. Labeaud also has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the U.S. attorney.

As a spotter, Solomon would not have been as central to the staged accident scheme as participants who were described as “slammers,” those who took the actual steps to force a collision. 

“As a ‘spotter,’ Solomon would follow Labeaud in a separate vehicle as Labeaud prepared to stage accidents with 18-wheeler tractor-trailers,” a statement by Strasser’s office said about how the scheme worked. “After the accidents, Solomon would pick up Labeaud after he exited the vehicle in which he had staged an accident.”

With the collision having taken place, it kicked off the second part of the scheme, which would involve faked injuries, demands for compensation, settlements with insurers, and in some cases, unnecessary surgeries by presumably cooperating doctors to boost a potential payout. No doctors who might have been involved in the scheme have been indicted. 

While the vast majority of those indicted were either spotters or slammers, there are two individuals indicted who stand out. One is attorney Danny Keating, who was indicted in November and was the first of the alleged organizers of the scheme to be charged, though more indictments of organizers are expected. Keating was also charged in a civil suit brought by Southeastern Motor Freight. There are no other attorneys who have been indicted. 

Another was Cornelius Garrison, an alleged slammer who was indicted in September and was shot to death just a few days later. An arrest in that murder has not been made.

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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.