The Louisiana staged accident investigation has found new targets.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Duane Evans announced Tuesday that seven individuals had been charged with involvement in the scheme, the first indictments handed down since September 2021. The indictments were unsealed Feb. 3.
The latest indictment brings the number of individuals charged in the investigation to 47. Going back to 2020, there have been 30 guilty pleas and the first sentences to jail or home detention for those who copped a plea.
Since November 2020, when the one attorney involved in the scheme, Danny Keating, was indicted, there now have been two indictments of seven persons in each indictment.
As with the other indictments in the case, those who were indicted were all charged with violating federal mail fraud laws.
The modus operandi in the latest indictment is similar to that spelled out in earlier indictments and guilty pleas: Individuals are recruited to ride along in cars, a target truck is identified, a staged crash occurs and insurance payouts are sought.
Those indicted were Joseph Brewton of Houma, Louisiana; David Brown and Gilda Henderson, both of Morgan City, Louisiana; Latrell Johnson, New Orleans; Larry Picou and Florence Randle, both of Gibson, Louisiana; and Stacie Wheaten, Atlanta. Those indicted tended toward a more advanced age: Randle is 70 and Henderson is 69. Outside of 30-year-old Johnson, the others are all 50 or older.
The indictment itself notes that the staged accidents were a family affair. Randle, Brewton, Brown and Wheaten are all described as “family members,” along with six other individuals who were indicted earlier.
What is notable about this latest indictment is those charged allegedly were involved in recruiting other people to ride in the cars that collided with trucks identified as targets, the so-called “slammers” and “spotters.”
According to the statement issued by Evans’ office about the indicted individuals, all of them were involved to a certain degree with the steps needed to put the slammers and spotters into the cars and then to direct the collisions. Many of the earlier indictments and guilty pleas were of individuals who had been charged with merely being a passenger in a car that intentionally collided with a truck (though were fully aware of what was going on).
Given that there are four specific dates listed as when the staged accidents took place, the list of affected trucking companies has several names on it: Covenant Transportation (NASDAQ:CVLG) and its subsidiary, Southern Refrigerated Transportation; B.A.H. Express; Tennessee Commercial Warehouse; HMNG Trucking; and Stevie B’s Trucking.
Payments made by insurance companies identified in the indictment are as high as $130,000. Additionally, one defendant, Henderson, underwent surgery for injuries she claimed she suffered in the collision, although there was no apparent need for such a procedure.
What hasn’t occurred so far is a larger indictment bringing in attorneys and doctors who allegedly were involved in the case. With the exception of Danny Keating, who pleaded guilty in June, no other attorneys have been indicted. (Keating is identified by name in the latest indictment).
Additionally, the unnecessary surgeries that several of the indicted individuals reportedly underwent raises the likelihood of some medical professionals being part of the scheme. But there have not been any indictments of that group.
Covenant is ranked 45th on the FREIGHTWAVES 500.