By Biometrica staffer
A 28th woman pled guilty for playing a part in a scam from 2017, in which a group of conspirators planned to stage an accident with a tractor-trailer in New Orleans, to milk insurance payouts. The investigation revealed that although Aisha Thompson, 43, was not actually in the crash vehicle, she sought medical treatment for a back injury that she said stemmed from the accident.
The incident in question took place in New Orleans on Sept. 6, 2017, with the target vehicle being a Freightliner truck owned by Averitt Express of Cookeville, Tennessee. Court documents indicate that the group of co-conspirators and Thompson’s attorney split a $30,000 settlement with Averitt’s insurance company, with Thompson herself receiving about $7,500. She faces a three-year probation, as well as a maximum of five years in prison and/or a fine of $250,000 when she is sentenced on Feb. 16.
The federal investigation into the prolific number of crashes in New Orleans has been known as “Operation Sideswipe” and has thus far yielded 27 other guilty pleas. Per prosecutors, to date at least 40 people have been charged with staging approximately 100 accidents in the city. In September, seven others were charged in a four-count federal indictment for conspiracy to commit mail fraud — the same charge that Thompson pled guilty to earlier this month — in two separate accidents in June 2016 and June 2017.
It was in 2019 when reports began to emerge that federal prosecutors were looking into what were deemed “suspicious” accidents that led to legal action being taken by “victims” of a car crash against truck drivers, companies, and insurance carriers.
Similarities were identified by attorneys among at least 30 such cases which shared some salient features “including multiple people in a claimant vehicle, sideswipe allegations with commercial vehicle trailers, minimal damage to a claimant vehicle, little to no damage to the insured trailer and a commercial vehicle driver who is either unaware of or denies impact.” Some of the crashes even shared crash “victims,” including one who participated in two wrecks on the same day in May 2017.
At least four attorneys have been mentioned in the indictments, though only one — Danny Patrick Keating Jr. — has been charged. Keating Jr., a personal injury lawyer, allegedly represented around 77 plaintiffs who were seeking damages in 31 different staged accidents. The Department of Justice announced his guilty plea earlier this year, in June. The 52-year-old admitted to filing false lawsuits in Louisiana state and federal courts.
Staged accidents as a phenomenon in the U.S. began emerging first in the 1990s, and have grown significantly since. Today, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) calls such schemes a “big business,” and warns the public to watch out for telltale signs in order to prevent becoming a victim. For a primer on staged accident scams and how to avoid falling prey to them, you can refer to an earlier Biometrica piece here.