“… this is a warning to everyone involved in this program … you may want to have a few sleepless nights between now and a few months.”
NEW ORLEANS – Dozens of staged accidents. Dozens of hustlers. Millions of dollars have been paid to resolve fraudulent lawsuits with false infringement claims.
As a result, the entire state of Louisiana suffers from some of the highest auto insurance rates in the country.
“It affects us all,” said former US attorney Harry Rosenberg. “It affects you and me and all of your listeners because we will all be paying more insurance because of these fraudulent claims.”
According to authorities, the scam involves people packing into a car, deliberately stealing from the side of a random 18-wheeler, and then claiming injuries in a lawsuit that usually ends in a settlement paid for by insurance companies.
The street-level program organizers, known as “slammers”, are behind the wheel and cause the accident. After ramming their target, they jump out and put someone else in the driver’s seat.
“It is almost a suicidal activity to be a slammer, to get into an eighteen-wheel,” said US attorney Peter Strasser. “I have a word for you: it’s outrageous.”
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WWL-TV’s long series of investigations into the “Highway Robbery” investigation has recorded the indictments against 33 defendants by the US prosecutor and led to eleven confessions of guilt. The case is currently at a critical juncture and may explode into one of the largest accidental fraud cases of its kind.
“It is reasonable to assume that each of these pleas are people working with the government and sharing information,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a nonprofit criminal justice oversight group.
This month the sprawling case reached a critical point. While several lawyers have been linked to the fraud defendants in previous charges, veteran accident attorney Daniel Patrick Keating was the first to be indicted on November 5.
In a rare public appearance, Strasser and local FBI chief Bryan Vorndran held a press conference to announce the charges.
“Like all attorneys, Mr. Keating took an oath to uphold the United States Constitution and the laws of the state of Louisiana. Instead, he decided to violate these laws and his oath, ”said Vorndran.
WWL-TV identified Keating as a target more than a year ago. Now multiple sources tell us that Keating works with government agencies. Further evidence came last week when he voluntarily gave up his statutory license.
With Keating exposed as “Attorney A” in previous court documents, attention is now turning to attorneys who are identified as B through E in court records.
“I can only tell you that the investigation for lawyers A, B, C, etc. continues,” said Strasser.
Rosenberg said the case plays out the classic way: indict the subordinate suspects, secure some confessions of guilt and cooperation, and then work your way towards higher-level goals.
“It’s just a classic approach by the federal prosecutor’s office to work your way up the ladder,” he said. “Those who come early get the best offer (plea) because they have the ability to help the government.”
Multiple sources say some of the other professionals involved have consulted with A-list criminal defense lawyers in case they are next.
“I think most of them are, as they say, lawyers and have kept defense attorneys because they know the people who have been charged,” Rosenberg said.
Goyeneche said, “That is an indication that I am rightly a little nervous.”
WWL-TV linked attorney Vanessa Motta and her fiancé Sean Alfortish from previous “Highway Robbery” segments with accidental lawsuits that were classified as fraudulent.
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The couple is re-identified by a code in a recent September indictment accusing a well-known slammer and eight passengers of staging accidents. The ringleader charged in this indictment is Cornelius Garrison, who has been linked to more than 50 bogus accidents, including one in which Motta made his own personal injury claim of $ 650,000.
In one alarming development, Garrison was murdered four days after he was named in the indictment. Those fatal shots in Garrison’s mid-city apartment on September 22nd are now under investigation by the FBI.
“It’s unusual for the FBI to hire a task force for just a single murder,” said Rosenberg. “And that’s what apparently happened after Mr. Garrison’s murder.”
Garrison’s indictment relates to Alfortish as “Co-Conspirator A” and states that Alfortish provided Motta with office space in his Kenner building. Alfortish is a disbarrassed attorney who was sentenced in federal prison in an unrelated fraud case in which he rigged an election for president of the Louisiana Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association.
Dane Ciolino, a lawyer representing Motta, said he had nothing to add to his previous comments that his client was fully cooperating with the authorities. Calls to Alfortish did not return.
Court records show that other accused suspects, including some plead guilty, were present in accidental claims of the King Firm on Canal Street, New Orleans. The firm is one of the city’s best-known personal injury groups due to its frequent television commercials.
David Courcelle, an attorney for the King Firm, said the firm’s attorneys are careful to avoid making allegations that they may deem to be fraudulent.
“While we are unable to comment on any specific case, we are one of the many law firms that have represented individuals who are now indicted,” admitted Courcelle. “The King Firm has worked hard to uncover the truth and has taken appropriate action in all cases.”
When the heat rose, Vorndran issued a warning.
“For the FBI,” he said, “this warns anyone involved in this or any other program that we are looking for and that we are coming, and if you are involved in this or any similar program you may want to.” I’ve had a few sleepless nights between now and a few months. “
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