The defendants join a growing list of scammers who have pleaded guilty and agreed to work with the government.
NEW ORLEANS – Federal authorities on Wednesday issued three more confessions of guilt on their ambitious case against multiple criminal groups who have deliberately orchestrated 18-wheeler accidents in order to bring fraudulent lawsuits.
Among the defendants, who are joining a growing list of scammers who have pleaded guilty and agreed to work with the government, includes a ringleader who worked directly with local lawyers to run the high-risk programs.
Roderick Hickman, 49, of Baton Rouge, has been described by the U.S. Attorney’s Office as an organizer who worked with local accident attorneys to pack cars with passengers and intentionally wipe down tractor units, mostly in east New Orleans.
Hickman, along with Bernell Gale, 43, from Raceland and Troy Smith, 56, from Houma, pleaded guilty to mailing fraud for their role in cheating.
In a press release, authorities identified Hickman as a “slammer” who was deliberately rammed into the trucks and a “spotter” who pretended to witness an accident staged by others.
Hickman joins another key defendant, Damian Labeaud, as a potential key witness for the government as the investigations into lawyers involved in the longstanding fraud are null and void.
The rambling case became even more pressing when a third key government witness, alleged ringleader Cornelius Garrison, was fatally shot four days after his own indictment was announced in September. The FBI stepped in with the New Orleans Police Department in the murder investigation, but this murder remains unsolved.
In four similar charges, federal prosecutors have named 31 defendants, of whom more than a dozen have pleaded guilty. Aside from the alleged organizers who worked directly with lawyers, most of the defendants are low-ranking gamers who were passengers in the accidents that later filed injury claims. According to the government, some of the defendants were paid for phantom or exaggerated injuries in settlements.
While attorneys involved in the cases were referred to as attorneys “A” through “E” in court documents, WWL-TV’s multi-part series “Highway Robbery” revealed two of the attorneys who were closely related to Labeaud, Hickman and the now deceased garrison.
New Orleans Daniel Patrick Keating is referred to as Attorney A in some documents based on Keating’s phone number given by federal agencies and civil court records as the number Labeaud calls in connection with the accidents.
New Orleans attorney Vanessa Motta, a former Hollywood stuntwoman, is named in separate court documents for representing Garrison in what the government calls bogus lawsuits.
Keating and Motta failed to respond to multiple comments despite Motta’s attorney Dane Ciolino declaring his client’s innocence.
The scope of the fraud was outlined on one line in Hickman’s indictment: “It was another part of the scheme and artistry that Labeaud and Hickman orchestrated at least one hundred (100) accidents from about 2015 to about 2017,” the document says.
Hickman and his two co-defendants face a maximum of five years in prison for Wednesday’s guilty confessions.