NEW ORLEANS — Five of eight defendants in a sprawling federal investigation into staged truck accidents that resulted in fraudulent lawsuits pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday, seemingly ratcheting up the heat on the remaining defendants who are awaiting trial. 

Two drivers and three passengers in a pair of separate accidents with 18-wheelers pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud before U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon.

Four of the defendants who confessed – Lucinda Thomas, 63, Mary Wade, 55, Judy Williams, 59, and Dashontae Young, 25 – traveled from Houma before they were involved in an accident near the Danziger Bridge on June 6, 2017. A fifth defendant, Larry Williams, admitted he was involved in a staged accident with a truck six days later at almost the same location.

The guilty pleas leave three defendants awaiting trial, including alleged ringleaders Damian Labeaud and Mario Solomon. A third defendant, Genetta Israel was in the vehicle with Larry Williams.

In addition to naming Labeaud as calling the shots  in the two accidents named in the indictment, the U.S. Attorney’s office spells out much broader allegations against him.

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In particular, Labeaud is described by the feds as being in regular contact with “Attorney A”  before and after the accidents. Both the accidents in the indictment were followed by lawsuits filed on behalf of the passengers by New Orleans attorney Daniel Patrick Keating.

WWL-TV’s series “Highway Robbery” revealed that Keating is Attorney A, based on Keating’s phone number cited by federal authorities and civil court filings as the number that Labeaud calls in connection with the accidents.

The U.S. Attorney’s office spells out that “Attorney A and Labeaud met at a restaurant in New Orleans. During their meeting, Attorney A and Labeaud agreed that Attorney A would pay Labeaud $1,000 per passenger for staged and legitimate accidents with tractor-trailers.”

In a press release accompanying the superseding indictment, the U.S. Attorney’s office wrote, “Attorney A knew Labeaud was staging accident and Attorney A paid Labeaud for at least forty illegally staged automobile accidents. In addition, Labeaud and Attorney A would discuss the staging of accidents before they happened.”

Labeaud is free on bail, while Solomon is in jail in an unrelated case.

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