Thursday, June 24, 2021
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – United States Attorney Duane A. Evans announced
that JAMES “CURTIS” WILLIAMS (“WILLIAMS”), age 66 of Gibson, Louisiana, and RYAN
WHEATEN (“WHEATEN”), age 53, of Lafayette, Louisiana, entered a plea of guilty on June 23,
2021 to Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section
371, arising out of staged automobile accidents with tractor-trailers occurring in New Orleans
before United States District Court Judge Lance M. Africk.
According to today’s guilty plea, on March 27, 2017, WILLIAMS conspired with codefendants-
passengers Tanya Givens (“Givens”), John Diggs (“J. Diggs”), and Lois Russell
(“Russell”) to stage an accident with a tractor-trailer at the intersection of Chef Menteur Highway
and Downman Road. Damien Labeaud (“Labeaud”) and Roderick Hickman (“Hickman”), who
have pleaded guilty to staging other accidents, also participated in this accident. Hickman, while
driving Russell’s car, intentionally struck the 18-wheeler and then fled the scene with Labeaud.
Russell advised NOPD that she was the driver and she, along with WILLIAMS, Givens and J.
Diggs, made claims for personal injuries. In total, the victim trucking and insurance companies
paid out approximately $272,500.00 for these fraudulent claims. Today, WILLIAMS joins
Hickman, Russell, Givens and J. Diggs in pleading guilty to this staged accident.
Also according to today’s guilty plea, on May 17, 2017, WHEATEN, along with
participants Labeaud, Mario Solomon (“Solomon”), Henry Randle (“Randle”), and Dakota Diggs
(“D. Diggs”), participated in a staged automobile accident in the vicinity of U.S. Highway 90 East
and Calliope Street in New Orleans. Labeaud and Solomon fled the scene. Randle falsely reported
to the NOPD that he had been driving and that the tractor-trailer had struck his vehicle. Shortly
thereafter, Labeaud and Solomon went on to stage a second accident in the vicinity of Louisa Street
and Chickasaw Street with Bernell Gale (“Gale”), Troy Smith (“Smith”), Marvel Francois
(“Francois”), and another passenger. Labeaud, Solomon, Wheaten, Gale, Smith, and Francois were
also charged. Labeaud, Solomon, Gale, Smith, and Francois already pled guilty. After the staged
accident, Wheaten, Randle, and D. Diggs made claims for personal injuries. The victim trucking
and insurance companies paid out approximately $10,000.00 for these fraudulent claims.
WILLIAMS and WHEATEN face a maximum sentence of five (5) years. Upon release
from prison, WILLIAMS and WHEATEN also face a term of supervised release up to (3) three
years, and/or a fine of $250,000 or the greater of twice the gross gain to each defendant or twice
the gross loss to any person under Title 18, United States Code, Section 371. Sentencing in this
matter is scheduled for October 27, 2021.
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 Edward J. Rivera,
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Carboni, Assistant U.S. Attorney Shirin Hakimzadeh, and Assistant
U.S. Attorney Brian M. Klebba, Supervisor of the Financial Crimes Unit.