NEW ORLEANS — A sixth defendant in a sprawling federal investigation into fraudulent lawsuits stemming from staged truck accidents has pleaded guilty, ratcheting up the heat on two remaining defendants who are awaiting trial, as well as others who remain under investigation.
In a court hearing held by video conference Thursday due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mario Solomon, 48, pleaded Thursday to wire fraud conspiracy for his role as a “spotter,” someone who acts as a witness to manufactured accidents.
Solomon admitted that he would follow behind a car packed with other scammers as they intentionally side-swiped an 18-wheel tractor trailer. Solomon would then pass himself off as an independent witness when police arrived to take an accident report.
In a court confession called a “factual basis,” Solomon admitted playing the role of spotter in two staged accidents near the Danziger Bridge on Chef Menteur Highway six days apart in June 2017.
Five of the passengers in those two accidents previously pleaded guilty to pleaded guilty to same charges last year.
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 two defendants awaiting trial, including alleged ringleader Damian Labeaud. An additional 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.
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.
Keating has not responded to multiple calls for comment.
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 the confession signed by Solomon, he admits that he was paid on the spot by Labeaud for his role in the scam.
“Using funds he received from Attorney A, Labeaud would then pay the defendant (Solomon) for serving as the spotter,” according to the factual basis.
Solomon, who has been in custody since his arrest last fall, faces a maximum of five years in prison.