Murder charges: Latest in New Orleans staged-accident case

New charges have been filed in the ongoing staged-accident case targeting tractor-trailers in and around New Orleans following the alleged murder of a cooperating witness. 

As reported since September 2020, dozens of individuals have been charged and have pled guilty in a scheme to intentionally cause collisions with tractor-trailers to defraud trucking companies and their insurers.

The scheme involved “slammers” who drove cars and intentionally caused the accidents, and “spotters” who drove getaway cars that allowed the slammers to flee the scene and evade detection by law enforcement. After the slammers fled, a passenger would falsely claim to have been driving at the time of the collision, then lie as part of fraudulent insurance claims and lawsuits based on the staged collisions.

[Related: Staged accidents: Three more plead guilty, another sentenced]

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana reported that earlier this month, Ryan J. Harris, 35, of New Orleans -- a “slammer” -- and Jovanna R. Gardner, 39, of Chalmette, Louisiana -- a passenger -- were charged with five counts related to the alleged murder of Cornelius Garrison, who worked with Harris as both a slammer and spotter during the scheme. Both Harris and Garrison caused or attempted to cause passengers in the staged collisions to use the services of attorneys who were part of the scheme.

In or around October 2019, Garrison began covertly cooperating with the federal government concerning the staged automobile collisions. On Sept. 18, 2020, Garrison was charged in an indictment in the Eastern District of Louisiana with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and other offenses related to the staged collisions.

[Related: New Orleans staged crashes: Two sentenced on fraud, conspiracy counts]

The new Indictment alleges that on Sept. 22, 2020, Harris and Gardner murdered and aided and abetted the murder of Garrison as part of a scheme to prevent Garrison from cooperating with the federal government and exposing the scheme to stage collisions. Harris and Gardner were charged with:

  • Conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud
  • Conspiracy to commit witness tampering through murder
  • Witness tampering through murder
  • Conspiracy to retaliate against a witness through murder
  • Retaliation against a witness through murder
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[Related: New Orleans accident frauds: Latest charges, sentences]

If convicted of the fraud charge, which is related to the staged accidents, Harris and Gardner face up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, and up to a $250,000 fine or twice the gross gain to any defendant or twice the gross loss to any victims stemming from the fraud charge.

For the remaining charges, the defendants face life in prison, up to five ears of supervised release, and up to a $250,000 fine. 

Harris and Gardner made their initial appearance in court on Monday, May 6, and were remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service after the government moved for their detention.

So far, 52 individuals have been charged in the federal probe into the staging of automobile collisions with other vehicles in the New Orleans metropolitan area.

[Related: After the worst happens: Nuclear verdicts threat rolls downhill to small fleets, owner-operators]