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Quartet of Louisiana staged accident ‘slammers’ and other participants plead guilty to federal charges

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Four individuals indicted earlier this year in the Louisiana staged accident scheme pleaded guilty to federal mail fraud charges Thursday, bringing the total number of guilty pleas in the scandal to 15.

The four individuals pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of New Orleans to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, which has been the federal charge used against virtually all the defendants in the case. The defendants who pleaded guilty are Anthony Robinson, 67; Audrey Harris, 53; Jerry Schaffer, 66; and Keishira Robinson, 26, all of New Orleans. 

The total number of indictments in the case so far is 33. One of the persons indicted, Cornelius Garrison, was shot to death at his home not long after he was indicted. He was believed to be cooperating with federal investigators. 

The indictments handed down against the four defendants in October followed along the lines of the other indictments in the case. The “slammers” and other schemers got together and looked for a truck to stage a collision with; they made the crash happen; sometimes the driver would flee to have his place taken by somebody else; and a series of legal actions would ensue, trying to pry money out of the trucking company or its insurer. 

In the case of the 2015 crash with a C.R. England truck, it worked. Payouts from the company and its insurer, Chubb, totaled $4.7 million. 

The four individuals who pleaded guilty in the C.R. England collision were recruited into the scheme by a man named Damien Labeaud, who already has pleaded guilty in the case and whose name has been prominently mentioned in many of the indictments. 

Labeaud and an individual identified in the October indictment as “co-conspirator A” would receive payments from unidentified attorneys for staging accidents and having recruited  passengers in the car who would then allege injuries in lawsuits against the trucking company. In some cases, the scheme went so far as to recruit doctors who would perform unnecessary surgeries on the car passengers for phantom injuries, all to boost the size of the payment for the trucking companies and their insurers.

The October indictment said between 2015 and 2017, Labeaud staged at least 100 accidents. 

Anthony Robinson, according to the original indictment, got about $1.5 million. Harris got $2.1 million of the payout from C.R. England and its insurer. Schaffer, who had what appears to be unnecessary back surgery, got $1 million. Keishira Robinson got $125,000. The settlement checks were deposited with the attorneys and legal fees of several hundred thousand dollars were paid out to the lawyers in the case.

Only one attorney in the overall Louisiana scheme has been indicted: Danny Keating. (Keating is not identified by name in the four-person indictment). 

However, there are numerous references in various indictments to lawyers A, B, C, D and E, and it is assumed that the testimony of those who pleaded guilty will eventually be used to indict others. The Keating indictment clearly notes that he worked closely with Lebeaud. Keating was also named in a civil RICO suit brought by Southeastern Motor Freight. 

 No doctors who may have been involved in unnecessary surgeries designed to increase the size of the payouts have been indicted. 

The defendants face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Sentencing is set for March 31.

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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.