Insurance

Highway Robbery: scammer in staged accidents case sentenced to 21 months in prison

NEW ORLEANS — A mid-level scammer in the federal investigation into truck accidents staged for insurance fraud was sentenced Friday to 21 months in prison, becoming the first defendant to be sentenced among the 15 who have pleaded guilty in the sprawling case.

Mario Solomon, 48, was sentenced after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He earlier confessed to playing the role of “spotter” in two accidents in 2017 in which cars were intentionally rammed into 18-wheelers in eastern New Orleans.

As described by federal prosecutors, the spotter poses as an eyewitness to provide a bogus account of an accident once police arrive on the scene to investigate.

Solomon confessed to working closely with co-defendant and so-called “slammer” Damian Labeaud, who previously pleaded guilty to driving the cars into the trucks and working with attorneys who would then sue for damages against trucking companies and their insurers.

According to court documents, Solomon admitted scheming with Labeaud in two accidents just six days apart – June 6 and June 12, 2017, in the same location on Chef Menteur Highway near the Danziger Bridge. After Labeaud sideswiped the trucks in cars packed with several passengers, Solomon “would pick up Labeaud after he exited the vehicle in which he had staged an accident,” according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Both of those accidents were chronicled in detail in WWL-TV’s yearlong investigation “Highway Robbery,” detailing the longstanding scheme and its cost to all Louisiana drivers in the form of higher auto insurance rates.

Solomon was paid for his role as a spotter, prosecutors said, and $43,000 was later fraudulently collected by the co-defendants in the form of settlements to the accident lawsuits.

In addition to the 21-month prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon ordered Solomon to pay $71,816 in restitution to the victims in the case and serve three years of federal supervision after his release.

Labeaud is still awaiting sentencing, as is disbarred attorney Daniel Patrick Keating, who previously pleaded guilty after admitting his role in filing the bogus lawsuits and paying Labeaud for organizing the scheme. Five of the passengers who filed the fraudulent lawsuits in connection with the two accidents are also awaiting sentencing.

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