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Louisiana scorecard: A guilty plea and a jail sentence in staged accident scheme

It has been an active few weeks for prosecution linked to the Louisiana staged accident scam, with a participant sentenced to jail and another pleading guilty just after another pair of guilty pleas. 

In the sentencing announced Wednesday, Dewayne Coleman, 22, of Marrero, Louisiana, received 12 months in jail handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Vance. He also received three years of supervised release and was ordered to pay approximately $120,000 in restitution.

The charge against Coleman, as it has been with all the defendants, was mail fraud. 

No defendant in the Louisiana staged accident scheme has gone to trial. All of those sentenced pleaded guilty to federal mail fraud charges in actions brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The sentences handed down so far were just under two years, 10 months, a pair of defendants getting four years, and in one case, home incarceration. 

In the case of Coleman, the truck he and his co-defendant Erica Lee (referred to as Erica Lee Thompson when she pleaded guilty in June 2021) targeted was operated by Averitt Express. The amount of the payout on the collision was $30,000, according to the prepared statement released by the U.S. attorney regarding the sentencing. Lee has not been sentenced.

In the most recent guilty plea, which comes on the heels of the two other guilty pleas last month, Ashley McGowan, 35, of New Orleans, pleaded guilty Thursday on a single count of mail fraud. She will be sentenced June 14, also by Judge Vance. 

The collision that McGowan was involved in took place June 8, 2016. Her co-conspirators are people who have pleaded guilty or been indicted and have popped up throughout the various guilty pleas of others: Anthony Robinson; his wife, Audrey Harris; his daughter, Keishira Robinson; and another unidentified individual. The ring leader was Damian Labeaud “and others.” Lebeaud was one of the first participants in the scheme to plead guilty.

The truck targeted by the collision that McGowan was involved in was owned by Transportation Consultants Inc. 

What happened in the collision is spelled out in the court document regarding McGowan’s guilty plea and is not materially different from what is in the other indictments and guilty pleas: “The tractor-trailer was a flatbed truck that was loaded with slabs of granite. Labeaud accelerated toward the TCI tractor-trailer and caused minimal impact between the front passenger side of the Mazda and the rear driver side of the tractor-trailer.”

Post-collision in the TCI collision as well as others, the participants then engage in a rehearsed switching of people to put more bodies into the car that was wrecked, and with Labeaud exiting the car to be replaced by another participant who would then lie about who was in the car and behind the wheel at the time of the accident.

While the $30,000 payout in the Coleman accident with the Averitt truck was relatively small, the sentencing memo filed in court on McGowan said AIG Transportation, on behalf of TCI, paid out $545,000 in a settlement. McGowan got a check for just over $50,000 for her role. 

As is the case with all the indictments, guilty pleas and sentencings, the corresponding documents refer to multiple attorneys planning with the defendants but who are identified only by letter. In the case of McGowan, there are references to attorneys A and B. But so far, only one attorney, Danny Keating, has been indicted in connection with the case. He pleaded guilty last June. Attorneys in other documents have been referred to as high as Attorney E. 

Coleman’s relatively stiff sentence when others received a lesser punishment may be related to the fact that he was found to have lied to investigators. In the U.S. attorney’s statement, Coleman was charged with making false statements in depositions taken in March 2019.

The McGowan guilty plea brings the number of people convicted in what the U.S. attorney is calling Operation Side Swipe to 33. Indictments total 47, a number that grew by seven in February with a large indictment. 

One of the indictments that won’t be resolved with a guilty plea or trial is that of Cornelius Garrison. In September 2020, soon after he was indicted, Garrison was gunned down in his home. No arrests have been made in connection with his death.

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