NEW ORLEANS — After 32 defendants were previously indicted as street-level scammers over the past year, the sprawling federal investigation into staged truck accidents has led to its first criminal charge against an attorney.
New Orleans attorney Daniel Patrick Keating, 51, faces one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
“What we've charged today is an artifice to defraud,” U.S. Attorney Peter Strasser said at a press briefing Thursday to announce the indictment. “I have one word for you: it's outrageous.”
Keating, a longtime personal injury attorney, was indicted in connection with four specific staged accidents between March and June of 2017. Strasser said Keating agreed to surrender his law license, effective immediately.
Overall, Keating is accused of working with convicted felon Damian Labeaud in at least 31 manufactured accidents that led to about $1.5-million in tainted lawsuit settlements. Labeaud previously pleaded guilty to being an organizer of the manufactured accidents and is presumed to be cooperating with authorities.
Authorities say the scam involves people packing into a car, intentionally sideswiping an 18-wheeler, then claiming injuries in a lawsuit that would usually be settled by insurance companies.
“As all attorneys do, Mr. Keating took an oath to uphold the United States Constitution and the laws of the state of Louisiana,” local FBI chief Bryan Vorndran said. “But instead, he chose to violate those laws and his oath.”
Of 32 defendants indicted so far in the probe, 11 have pleaded guilty and are presumably cooperating with authorities. As the case continues, several other attorneys have been implicated by similar code names in previous indictments and court documents.
The scam is costly to anyone who has car insurance by driving up rates. State Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon calculated that fraud adds $600 a year to the insurance costs of every Louisiana policy-holder.
“Every person citizen in this country who has insurance is affected by these schemes,” Vorndran said.
Thursday’s indictment states that Keating and his clients were paid about $1.5 million in those fraudulent accidents, with Keating keeping about $358,000 in attorneys’ fees. Strasser said Labeaud alone was paid thousands of dollars by Keating in at least 31 staged accidents.
Aside from Labeaud and a couple of other accident organizers who worked directly with attorneys, most of the defendants are low-level players who were passengers in the accidents who went on to file injury lawsuits. According to the feds, some of the defendants were paid in settlements for phantom or exaggerated injuries.
Adding urgency to the case, one defendant described as a “slammer” and organizer was murdered inside his Gentilly home on Sept. 22, four days after he was named in an earlier staged accident indictment.
Cornelius Garrison had been secretly cooperating with the FBI, multiple sources said, and that agency acknowledged it is now assisting NOPD homicide detectives in trying to identify the killer.
Previous indictments have implicated other attorneys.
While Keating was previously unmasked in the WWL-TV investigative series “Highway Robbery” as the person referred to in court documents as “Attorney A,” federal prosecutors listed Attorneys B through E as connected to other scammers.
“The attorneys that have been engaged in this? The longer they wait to come in, the tougher it's going to be on them,” said Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. “So they're on the trail right now. And there's no turning back and this investigation is a long way from being over.”