Seven defendants have been sentenced this month in the Louisiana staged accident scam, but none of the sentences exceeded 18 months and several defendants received probation.
The scam collisions all followed a similar pattern: A truck (or in one case a bus) was identified by “spotters” and a group led by a “slammer” staged a collision. Various levels of litigation followed, with the passengers in the car claiming medical ailments arising from the collisions. In some cases, unnecessary surgeries followed. Payouts by insurers and truck companies ranged from a few thousand dollars to more than $1 million in a case involving C.R. England.
The sentences handed down this month, all for mail fraud, are:
- John Diggs, 62, and James Williams, 68, 10 month in prison, whose staged accident in May 2017 resulted in insurance payouts of $275,500. They also face three years of supervised release and a restitution hearing in April.
- Dashontae Young, 28. Damian Lebeaud, who was one of the ringleaders in the collision scam and who has yet to be sentenced after pleading guilty in August 2020, recruited Young to be a passenger in a collision in June 2017. Young received a sentence of five years probation and was ordered to pay restitution of $43,000. Three other individuals who were involved in that collision received payouts of just $7,500. Young’s three fellow passengers received the same sentence last month. Lebeaud is to be sentenced in May.
- David Brown, 51, Gilda Henderson, 70, and Latrell Johnson, 30, each got three years’ probation and were ordered to pay restitution of $200,963.59.
- Stacie Wheaten, 51, got 18 months in prison. Her longer sentence could be tied to the fact that she recruited Brown, Henderson and Johnson to serve as passengers for a collision on May 11, 2017. The collision in that case resulted in payouts of more than $140,000. She will also face two years of supervised release and was ordered to pay restitution of $54,000.
While the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana has not published the total number of individuals sentenced in the scheme, a review by FreightWaves of public statements on those sentencings appears to show 26 people have received punishment ranging from probation to four years in jail.
However, whenever a new individual pleads guilty, the U.S. attorney’s office does specify the number of people who have entered that plea. In the most recent statement from December, the number of guilty pleas was reported as 44.
A total of the number of individuals indicted could not be calculated by publication time but it is believed to be fewer than 50, suggesting that the number of individuals who have been indicted but not yet pleaded guilty is relatively small. None of the indictments have gone to trial.
With two exceptions, all the defendants have pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud. The other guilty pleas were for wire fraud.
While the rising number of sentencings suggests the legal process may be running down, the fact remains that only one attorney involved in the collisions at the heart of Operation Sideswipe has been indicted. That attorney, Danny Keating, pleaded guilty in June 2021 and still has not been sentenced.
But the various indictments and U.S. attorney statements following many of the sentencings repeatedly refer to Attorneys A,B,C, D and E as having masterminded the scam. None of those unidentified individuals have been indicted, nor have there been indictments of any doctors who various court documents suggest participated in the scam by performing unnecessary surgeries.
One person who was indicted will not be sentenced: Cornelius Garrison, one of the leaders of the scam, who was murdered in his apartment soon after he was indicted in 2020.
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