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33rd guilty plea given in staged accidents investigation

The defendant, Ashley McGowan, admitted to lying about her role in an accident that defrauded an insurer $545,000.

NEW ORLEANS — The ongoing federal investigation into staged accidents has netted a 33rd guilty plea, our partners at NOLA.com report.

Ashely McGowan admitted she lied about her role in a wreck that cost a trucker's insurance company $545,000.

McGowan plead guilty Thursday to a mail fraud conspiracy, in which she originally told authorities she was a passenger in a 2006 Mazda MZ3 that was hit by a granite-loaded flatbed truck on June 8, 2016, at Chickasaw and Louisa streets.

As it turns out, Damien Labeaud crashed the car into an 18-wheeler while McGowan was in a separate vehicle. Before police arrived on the scene, one of Labeaud's passengers moved into the driver's seat, while McGowan got into the wrecked vehicle and Labeaud left in the separate vehicle McGowan had occupied.

McGowan's attorney sued the trucking company, its driver and its insurer on behalf of she and three others. The suit was settled for a total of $545,000, of which McGowan received $50,000.

Prosecutors in this case say 47 defendants schemed to stage 77 wrecks with commercial vehicles, costing insurers million of dollars.

McGowan is scheduled to be sentenced on June 9. She faces a maximum of five years in prison and a fine as high as $250,000.

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