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Low-level participant in Louisiana staged accident scheme gets 10 months

Sentence greater than that meted out to a defendant last month but less than others received

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

A participant in the Louisiana staged accident scheme has been sentenced to 10 months in jail. 

The court’s action is the first since the December sentencing of another participant in the staged accidents. That defendant, Genetta Isreal, was sentenced only to home incarceration, in contrast to sentences of three other participants who got time in jail.

In the latest sentencing Wednesday, Ryan Wheaten, 54, was sentenced to the 10-month term by U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk of the Eastern District of Louisiana. The U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of the state has been prosecuting the staged accident cases, the vast majority of which occured in the New Orleans area.

Wheaten also was sentenced to three years of supervised release after the 10 months is served. He was ordered to pay restitution of $10,000. The U.S. attorney’s office said Wheaten had made false insurance claims after the staged accident that resulted in insurers paying out about $11,000 for the nonexistent injuries to Wheaten and others. 

Prior sentences handed down by the courts were to Mario Solomon, who received 21 months one year ago, almost to the day, and the husband and wife team of Anthony Robinson and Audrey Harris, who were deeply involved in organizing the staged accidents. Each got four years.

All of the sentenced defendants pleaded guilty.

In the prepared statement released by the U.S. attorney’s office, Wheaten was said to have been involved in a staged accident along with Solomon and several other defendants who have pleaded guilty, including Damien Labeaud, whose name comes up frequently in recaps of the incidents. 

Labeaud was the first participant to plead guilty, in July 2020. He has not been sentenced.

Wheaten appears to have only been a passenger in the incident described in the statement regarding his sentencing. The incident he was involved in was in May 2017. Labeaud “purposely drove the vehicle into a tractor trailer and then fled the scene with Solomon,” according to the statement. Another passenger, Henry Randle, “falsely reported” to the New Orleans Police Department that he had been the driver of the car and that “the tractor-trailer was at fault.”

All of the guilty pleas and sentences have been on charges of mail fraud. Randle pleaded guilty in May as did J. Diggs, who also was involved in the staged accident that is sending Wheaten to jail.

Last week, the U.S. attorney’s office secured another guilty plea in the scam, this time from Donisesha Lee. 

That guilty plea was the 30th that the U.S. attorney’s office has secured in the scam, in which lawyers and others arranged with private individuals to be “slammers” and create an accident with a truck or in at least one case, a bus. 

The accidents were followed by claims of injuries to pull in insurance claims and in some cases went so far as to involve unnecessary surgeries.

Only one attorney has been indicted for involvement in the staged accident scheme: Danny Keating, who pleaded guilty in June. 

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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.