By Travers Mackel | WDSU | August 21, 2020
NEW ORLEANS —
Eleven more people have been indicted, accused of staging wrecks in New Orleans to benefit themselves.
Federal prosecutors also say in their filing that lawyers are part of the alleged conspiracy.
It’s a follow-up to a WDSU Investigates report — and a story we broke almost two years ago.
More indictments from U.S. Attorney Peter Strasser.
Eleven people accused of staging wrecks in Gentilly with 18-wheelers in an effort to attempt to bilk insurance companies out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
We first reported on this back in November of 2018, after civil lawsuits were filed that caught the attention of insurance companies
Back then, Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon looked at our findings and told us this about the filings.
“It defies logic and explanation,” said Donelon.
Clearly the federal government picked up the case and now, new charges — all mail fraud-related.
In the wide-ranging indictment, lawyers who represented and allegedly coordinated with the people accused of staging the actual wrecks are mentioned.
No names are listed, they’re only identified as ‘attorney’s a-e.’
But it says three work at the same New Orleans-based firm, which again – is not listed in the public filing by the Department of Justice.
This comes one month after several others defendants took plea deals for similar charges.
They admitted to staging wrecks to rip off insurance companies.
Last month, after that plea deal, former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg says prosecutors and federal agents are trying to tie lawyers to the alleged crimes.
“I suspect they will be going after more people it’s an every evolving situation,” said Rosenberg.
Here’s the full press release from Strasser’s office.
‘United States Attorney Peter G. Strasser announced today the Indictment of RODERICK HICKMAN (“HICKMAN”), age 49, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana; LOIS RUSSELL (“RUSSELL”), age 61, of Gibson, Louisiana; JAMES WILLIAMS (“WILLIAMS”), age 65, of Gibson, Louisiana; TANYA GIVENS (“GIVENS”), age 42, of Gibson, Louisiana; JOHN DIGGS (“J. DIGGS”), age 59, of Thibodaux, Louisiana; HENRY RANDLE (“RANDLE”), age 63, of Gibson, Louisiana; RYAN WHEATEN (“WHEATEN”), age 52, of Lafayette, Louisiana; DAKOTA DIGGS (“DIGGS”), age 25, of Ft. Smith, Arkansas; BERNELL GALE (“GALE”), age 43, of Raceland, Louisiana; MARVEL FRANCOIS (“FRANCOIS”), age 56, of Houma, Louisiana; and TROY SMITH (“SMITH”), age 56, of Houma, Louisiana. These eleven defendants were charged in a seven-count federal indictment with one (1) count of Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371 and six (6) counts of Mail Fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1341. If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of five (5) years for Count 1 and twenty (20) years as to Counts 2-7. Upon their release from prison, each defendant can be placed on a term of supervised release for up to five (5) years and fined up to $250,000.00 per count.
Today’s indictment charges these defendants and others with intentionally staging automobile accidents with tractor-trailers in New Orleans to defraud trucking and insurance companies through fraud. According to today’s indictment, defendants HICKMAN, RUSSELL, WILLIAMS, GIVENS, and J. DIGGS intentionally collided with a tractor-trailer on March 27, 2017, at the intersection of Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road. The indictment alleges that HICKMAN intentionally struck the 18-wheeler and then fled the scene with Damian Labeaud (“Labeaud”), who pled guilty to a previous indictment charging him and seven others with staging automobile accidents.
The indictment also alleges that defendants RANDLE, D. DIGGS, and WHEATEN intentionally collided with a tractor-trailer on May 17, 2017, in the area of Calliope Street and US-90 East. Labeaud was the actual driver of the vehicle when he intentionally caused the accident with the tractor-trailer. Mario Solomon, also charged and convicted in an earlier indictment, picked up Labeaud from the collision site. Labeaud participated in another staged accident approximately 30 minutes later in the vicinity of Louisa Street and Chickasaw Street. The participants in the Louisa Street staged accident were FRANCOIS, GALE, SMITH, and another passenger. Again, Labeaud fled the scene.
As discussed in the indictment, the passengers were referred to attorneys who paid HICKMAN and Labeaud to stage the accidents. In some cases, the attorneys knew that the participants were uninjured but referred them to medical providers for treatment to increase the value of subsequent lawsuits. In total, the victim trucking and insurance companies paid out $277,500.00 for these fraudulent claims.
Arrest Warrants were issued for RUSSELL, J. DIGGS, WHEATEN, and D. DIGGS. The remaining defendant’s will be required to appear, at a later date, before a United States Magistrate Judge for an initial appearance and arraignment on this indictment.
U.S. Attorney Strasser reiterated that the indictment is merely a charge and that the guilt of the defendants must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office would also like to acknowledge the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Louisiana State Police, and the Metropolitan Crime Commission with this matter. The prosecution of this case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian M. Klebba, Supervisor of the Financial Crimes Unit, Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Rivera, Assistant U.S. Attorney Shirin Hakimzadeh, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Carboni.’
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