28 Charged for Staging Accidents, Auto Insurance Fraud

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NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – United States Attorney Peter G. Strasser announced today the indictment of nine additional defendants bringing the total to twenty-eight charged for intentionally staging automobile accidents. Today’s indictment charges CORNELIUS GARRISON (“GARRISON”), age 54, of New Orleans, Louisiana; DONIESHA GIBSON (“GIBSON”), age 29, of New Orleans, Louisiana; CHANDRIKA BROWN (“BROWN”), age 29, of Slidell, Louisiana; ISHAIS PRICE (“PRICE”), age 49, of New Orleans, Louisiana; AISHA THOMPSON (“THOMPSON”), age 42, of New Orleans, Louisiana; DEWAYNE COLEMAN (“COLEMAN”), age 21, of Marrero, Louisiana; DONISESHA LEE, age 30, of Harvey, Louisiana; DONREION LEE, age 22, of Harvey, Louisiana; and ERICA LEE THOMPSON (“ERICA LEE”), age 46, of Harvey, Louisiana.  These nine defendants were charged in a seven-count federal indictment with one (1) count of Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371 and six (6) counts of Mail Fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1341. The indictment alleges that the defendants intentionally used vehicles to cause staged motor vehicle accidents with commercial carriers in order to defraud these carriers and their insurance companies.  If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of five (5) years for Count 1 and twenty (20) years as to Counts 2-7.  Upon their release from prison, each defendant can be placed on a term of supervised release for up to five (5) years and fined up to $250,000.00 per count or twice the gross gain to the defendant of twice the gross loss to the victim.

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According to today’s indictment and previous indictments, there were five (5) “slammers,” that is individuals who intentionally caused motor vehicle accidents to defraud commercial vehicles and insurance companies, operating in the New Orleans metropolitan area.  Two alleged slammers, Damian Labeaud and Roderick Hickman, are charged in previous indictments, and, two additional alleged slammers have since died.  Today’s indictment alleges that GARRISON was a slammer.

GARRISON is charged with staging over 50 accidents and was paid over $150,000 by an unnamed Co-Conspirator (“Co-Conspirator A”).  Co-Conspirator A instructed GARRISON as to the number of passengers to use in the staged accidents and to avoid areas patrolled by the Louisiana State Police and instead stage the accidents under the jurisdiction of the New Orleans Police Department.  The indictment alleges that Co-Conspirator A referred the staged accident cases to an attorney referenced as Attorney B.   GARRISON staged accidents mostly on Interstate 10 from Slidell to Baton Rouge and usually at night to avoid eyewitnesses.  GARRISON targeted commercial vehicles, including tractor-trailers, that were changing lanes and would cause the accident by striking the commercial vehicle or tractor-trailer in their blind spot, using the slammer vehicle.  After the accident, GARRISION 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 at the time of the staged accident.

The instant indictment charges GARRISON with staging two accidents.  The first occurred on October 15, 2015, and involved a Hotard bus.  GARRISON intentionally drove a 2014 Dodge Avenger owned by GIBSON into a Hotard bus while traveling on the I-10 near the flyover of the I-510.  Also in the vehicle were defendants BROWN and PRICE.  Total settlement for the Hotard bus accident was approximately $677,500.

The second staged accident charged in this indictment occurred on September 6, 2017, on the I-10 near the Almonaster exit when GARRISON crashed defendant ERICA LEE’s 2015 RAV4 into a tractor-trailer owned by Averitt Express.  The passengers in this vehicle were COLEMANDONISEHA LEEDONREION LEE, and an unknown female passenger who gave the name Aisha Thompson to the police after the staged accident.  Total settlement for the Averitt accident was $30,000.

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In total, the victim trucking, bus, and insurance companies paid out approximately $707,500.00 for these two fraudulent claims.

An arrest warrant was issued for COLEMAN. The remaining defendants will be required to appear, at a later date, before a United States Magistrate Judge for an initial appearance and arraignment on this indictment.

U.S. Attorney Strasser reiterated that the indictment is merely a charge and that the guilt of the defendants must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

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 Brian M. Klebba, Supervisor of the Financial Crimes Unit; Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Rivera; and Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Carboni.

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