BY KATELYN UMHOLTZ | NOLA.COM | SEPTEMBER 18, 2020
Nine more people have been indicted on federal charges in a scheme to crash vehicles into buses and big trucks in the New Orleans area, in order to defraud insurance companies. They join 19 other defendants already under indictment.
Insurers have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle the fraudulent claims, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
In Friday’s new indictment, Cornelius Garrison, 54, of New Orleans is accused of staging two wrecks in exchange for $150,000 from a co-conspirator who has not been publicly identified. Garrison was one of the ring’s five “slammers” directly responsible for the crashes, typically at night to avoid eyewitnesses, on Interstate 10 between Slidell and Baton Rouge, prosecutors said. Two other alleged slammers have died since their indictment, and two more, Damian Labeaud and Roderick Hickman, were charged previously.
Prosecutors said Garrison targeted more than 50 commercial vehicles such as tractor-trailer rigs on stretches of I-10 patrolled by the New Orleans Police Department, not by the Louisiana State Police. After the wrecks, the U.S. attorney’s office said, Garrison “would usually exit the vehicle from the passenger side in order to avoid being seen by the driver of the target vehicle. Garrison instructed the passengers to call 911 to report that they had been hit by a vehicle. A passenger in the vehicle would falsely claim to have been the driver.”
In two wrecks, insurance companies paid a total of almost $708,000. One involved a 2014 Dodge Avenger crashing into a Hotard bus on I-10 near I-510 on Oct. 15, 2015. The other saw a Toyota RAV4 crash into an Averitt Express tractor trailer on I-10 near the Almonaster Avenue exit on Sept. 6, 2017.
The other eight defendants charged Friday were identified as:
- Chandrika Brown, 29, of Slidell, who was reported to be a passenger in the Avenger
- Dewayne Coleman, 21, of Marrero, a passenger in the RAV4
- Doniesha Gibson, 29, of New Orleans, who reportedly owned the Avenger
- Doniesha Lee, 30, of Harvey, a passenger in the RAV4
- Donreion Lee, 22, of Harvey, another passenger in the RAV4
- Ishais Price, 49, of New Orleans, said to be another passenger in the Avenger
- Aisha Thompson, 42, of New Orleans, an alias for a person who also was a passenger in the RAV4
- Erica Lee Thompson, 46, of Harvey, who owned the RAV4.
The new defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and six counts of mail fraud. If convicted, they face as long as 25 years in prison plus fines, although maximum penalties in federal court are rare for first-time offenders.
The U.S. attorney’s office credited the FBI, Louisiana State Police and Metropolitan Crime Commission for help in the investigation. Prosecutors on the case are assistant U.S. attorneys Brian Klebba, Edward Rivera Maria Carboni.