When Damien Labeaud got hired by indicted New Orleans attorney Danny Keating in 2017, it was as a “runner” and parts of the job reportedly were for legitimate purposes.
Keating was indicted on federal mail fraud charges last week as the first attorney charged in the Louisiana staged accident scheme. But based on the specifics of the indictment announced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Keating’s legitimate use of Labeaud to find new business turned into a far more active and illegitimate business of staging accidents and trying to get settlements out of trucking companies and their insurers.
The indictment also helps drive home the point that there are a lot of other lawyers U.S. Attorney Peter Strasser knows about and presumably has on his radar for further indictments. The earlier indictments of the people who actually were in the cars that staged the accidents with trucks (and in at least one case, a bus) contained frequent references to attorneys A, B, C and D. The Keating indictment doesn’t refer to D, but it does refer to the first three. It also refers to several co-conspirators.
The indictment says attorneys A, B and C all work for the same personal injury law firm in New Orleans. That firm was not associated with Keating.
And while there have been 31 people indicted in the case including Keating, there very well may be more to come. The indictment also identified seven additional clients of Keating by letter.
Based on the indictment, it appears A, B and C may already have been involved in staging accidents when Lebeaud started working for Keating as what the indictment calls a runner. The job of a runner was to refer “persons involved in legitimate and staged motor vehicle accidents to Keating in exchange for money,” the indictment says. Bring a person involved in a tractor-trailer accident and Lebeaud would get $1,000. If there were no 18-wheeler involved, it would be $500.
“In the beginning of Keating and Labeaud’s arrangement, Keating was unaware that Labeaud was staging accidents,” according to the indictments. As the relationship between the two men developed, Keating “realized that Labeaud was intentionally staging automobile accidents and referring those potential plaintiffs to Keating.”
Labeaud — who has pleaded guilty to mail fraud charges and is cooperating with Strasser’s office — was paid for 31 different staged tractor-trailer accidents. The indictment lists the many trucking companies that were victimized by the staged accidents. Some already were identified in earlier indictments but others were not. Some are prominent, like Southern Refrigerated Transport, a unit of Covenant Transportation. Others are tiny, like Stevie B.’s Trucking of Harvey, Louisiana. At least one of them, Southeastern Motor Freight, already has pushed back against Keating by filing a RICO lawsuit against him.
The rest of the indictment is not remarkable and lays out the process by which the staged accidents took place, all of which has been spelled out in the earlier indictments. A group of individuals is assembled, a target truck is identified, the collision is accomplished and the lawsuits begin. As the press release announcing Keating’s indictment also reported, the indictment said Keating and the 77 clients coming out of the 31 accidents got about $1.5 million out of various settlements and Keating kept about $358,000 in attorney’s fees.
A story on the website of New Orleans TV station WWLT written by Mike Perlstein, who has been covering the staged accident scandal for months, quoted Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission (MCC) as saying of the other attorneys involved in planning the staged accidents, “the longer they wait to come in, the tougher it’s going to be on them. There’s no turning back and this investigation is a long way from being over.”
The MCC is a nonprofit group active in Louisiana that describes itself as a “privately funded, citizens’ organization dedicated to exposing public corruption and improving the administration of justice.”