NEW ORLEANS — Forty people were indicted. Guilty pleas from 29 of them, including prominent New Orleans accident attorney Daniel Patrick Keating. But the sprawling federal criminal case that exposed a network of con artists staging accidents with 18-wheelers has barely scratched the surface of the true extent of the scam.
Authorities concede that only a small fraction of those bogus accident cases have resulted in criminal charges. That's something that U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., wants to fix.
Graves is co-sponsoring legislation that would make it a federal crime to intentionally cause an accident with a commercial vehicle to make a false claim for damages.
The Baton Rouge congressman said the WWL-TV investigative series “Highway Robbery” spurred him to team up with U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Tex., to introduce a bi-partisan bill called the “Highway Accident Fairness Act of 2021.”
The series, launched in 2019, revealed the details of how the lucrative criminal enterprise operates.
Graves’ bill is designed to give federal authorities an additional legal weapon to crack down on the staged accidents, a racket that has grown into a virtual cottage industry in South Louisiana.
“I want to thank you for your efforts to bring attention to this,” Graves said in an exclusive interview Friday. “Some of those efforts actually resulted in putting this on our radar and other peoples' radar.”
Graves said the new law would help authorities crackdown on the scam on the front end rather than waiting for fraud statutes to kick in once a manufactured accident case is settled in court.
In nearly all of the recent federal convictions in the New Orleans base, defendants have pleaded guilty to wire fraud or mail fraud after collecting ill-gotten settlements from fraudulent lawsuits.
“It was the mail fraud, it was the wire fraud, things like that to hold these people accountable.” Graves said “This actually makes it a federal offense to stage the accident. So this really is a game-changer in that it allows federal authorities to come in much earlier in the process.”
Graves hopes that the bill will help reduce everyone's insurance rates once the fraud is curtailed or stopped.
“Louisiana drivers pay some of the highest insurance rates in America,” Graves said. “This is unacceptable and the solutions don’t require rocket science. Our bill will prevent criminal rings from further increasing the cost to drive and do business in Louisiana. The case that you worked on, as you know, involved over 100 accidents and one settlement alone was over $4.7 million.”
“Where does that money come from?” he asked. “It comes from higher insurance rates that we're all paying.”
With bi-partisan support, Graves hopes the bill will quickly end up in the fast lane toward becoming law.
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