NEW ORLEANS — A New Orleans husband and wife have received the steepest prison sentences handed down yet in a sprawling federal case that has exposed a network of scam artists who staged auto accidents with 18-wheelers in order to file fraudulent insurance claims.
Anthony Robinson, 67, and Audrey Harris, 54, were sentenced Wednesday to four years in prison each after admitting they went as far as undergoing back and neck surgeries for fabricated injuries in a case that led to a $4.7 million payday after filing a bogus lawsuit.
Robinson and Harris were among four people who packed into a car in October 2015 with confessed “slammer” Roderick Hickman behind the wheel as Hickman slammed into a tractor trailer at Alvar and France Road, court records of their guilty pleas show. The other two passengers were Robinson’s daughter, Keishira Robinson, and neighbor, Jerry Schaffer. Schaffer was previously sentenced to 30 years in prison, while Keishira Robinson is awaiting her sentence.
A slammer is the term used for organizers who work closely with attorneys before and after they get behind the wheel to intentionally cause accidents.
The federal case, more than three years in the making, has led to indictments against 33 people, 23 of whom have pleaded guilty, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Only one lawyer has been charged so far, longtime accident attorney Daniel Patrick Keating, although court documents have implicated other attorneys as participants.
Most of those indicted were passengers who later filed lawsuits claiming injuries that federal authorities say were either greatly exaggerated or non-existent. Four of the defendants were described by the feds as “slammers” who perfected the scam and were involved in dozens of the concocted accidents, most of them in eastern New Orleans from 2013 to 2018.
One person accused of being a “slammer,” 54-year-old Cornelius Garrison, was shot and killed in his apartment just four days after he was indicted in September.
That killing has remained unsolved, despite FBI agents joining New Orleans homicide detectives in looking at possible connections between his murder and his possible cooperation with authorities.
In addition to the four-year sentences for Robinson and Harris, U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle ordered the couple to pay more than $5 million in restitution to cover the amount of money paid out in settlements plus attorneys’ fees racked up by the trucking companies and their insurers.