Another guilty plea announced in widespread New Orleans staged-accident fraud scheme

Trucking news and briefs for Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021:

New Orleans staged-accident fraud scheme nets 29th guilty plea

U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans in the Eastern District of Louisiana announced this week that Chandrika Brown, 30, of New Orleans, pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371, arising out of staged automobile accidents with tractor-trailers and other commercial vehicles occurring in New Orleans.

According to the guilty plea, Brown, along with her co-defendants, Doniesha Gibson, of New Orleans, and Ishais Price, of New Orleans, and a co-defendant driver conspired to commit mail fraud in connection with a staged accident with a co-defendant driver.

The guilty plea brings the total number of defendants convicted in “Operation Sideswipe” to 29.

According to court documents, Brown claimed that on Oct. 15, 2015, she was a passenger in a 2014 Dodge Avenger owned and driven by Gibson that was hit by a Hotard bus while traveling on the I-10 near the flyover of the I-510. Price was also in the vehicle. 

In truth, a co-defendant asked Gibson to recruit Brown and Price to ride along as a passenger, and he then intentionally sought out a commercial vehicle to intentionally hit. After the staged accident, the co-defendant driver switched seats with Gibson, and they called the New Orleans Police Department.

Gibson, along with the passengers, falsely stated that the Hotard bus illegally changed lanes and caused the accident. Thereafter, Brown, Gibson, Price, and the co-defendant driver each retained counsel and made demands against Hotard’s owner and insurer for personal injury damages. As a result of the claims, the insurer utilized the U.S. mail to send the settlement drafts to Brown, Gibson, Price, and the co-defendant driver’s counsel. The total settlement for the Hotard bus accident was approximately $677,500.

Brown faces a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison. Upon release from prison, she also faces a term of supervised release of up to three years, and/or a fine of up to $250,000 or the greater of twice the gross gain to the defendant or twice the gross loss to any person, and a mandatory $100 special assessment fee. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 16, 2022.

I-10 closure in Phoenix this weekend

A stretch of eastbound Interstate 10 approaching the downtown Phoenix area will be closed this weekend, Nov. 19-22, for asphalt removal as part of an ongoing pavement improvement project, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Eastbound I-10 will be closed between 43rd Avenue and the I-17 “Stack” interchange from 9 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday. 

The northbound Loop 202 (South Mountain Freeway) ramps to eastbound I-10 also will be closed, along with the eastbound I-10 on-ramps at 67th and 51st avenues.

The work to improve rough pavement conditions along I-10 is being done ahead of the traditional holiday travel season that starts Thanksgiving week.

Eastbound I-10 drivers can consider exiting to the southbound/eastbound Loop 202 (South Mountain Freeway) east of 67th Avenue and reconnecting with I-10 near Chandler Boulevard in the Ahwatukee area, ADOT said. Eastbound I-10 drivers in the West Valley with plans to travel to the north Phoenix area also have the option of using northbound Loop 101 or Loop 303 to reach I-17.

Two sentenced in Alabama HHG scheme

On Oct. 27, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, Sherman Smith and Kenneth Smith were sentenced for their roles in a household goods moving scheme.

According to the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General, in July, Sherman Smith pleaded guilty to two counts of interstate transportation of stolen property, and Kenneth Smith pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony.

The Smiths, along with two other defendants, operated under various business names purporting to be household goods movers, but lacked authority under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to engage in the transport of household goods, OIG said.

The defendants, under the pretense of providing authorized interstate moving services, allegedly took possession of their victims' household goods and never delivered them to the rightful owners.

Sherman Smith was sentenced to time served, 3 years of supervised release, $35,396.50 in restitution, and a $200 special assessment. On Oct. 29, co-conspirator Kenneth Smith was sentenced to time served, 1 year of supervised release, and a $100 special assessment.

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