FBI issues warning to suspects amid investigation into widespread La insurance fraud scheme
NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana residents are paying more in car insurance, in part, due to a comprehensive scam that involves people intentionally hitting 18-wheelers and then fraudulently claiming injuries that result in million dollar settlements with insurance companies.
According to a WWL-TV investigation, these staged accidents have occurred dozens of times and involve a massive amount of scam artists.
But now, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken an interest in the case and it's no wonder as the convoluted scheme appears to have resulted in the murder of a suspect who was believed to be a ringleader within the operation.
In a November report, WWL-TV explained how the scam works. It said street-level organizers of the illegal plan are called "slammers." These slammers get behind the wheel of a vehicle, which is also occupied by at least several of their accomplices.
The slammer then intentionally side-swipes an 18-wheeler and immediately following the crash, quickly slips out of the driver's seat to let an accomplice claim to have been the driver during the incident.
“It's almost a suicidal occupation to be a slammer, to slam yourself into an eighteen-wheeler,” U.S. Attorney Peter Strasser told WWL-TV. “I have one word for you: It's outrageous.”
According to the news station's probe, at least 33 individuals have been indicted for participating in this aspect of the scheme, leading to 11 guilty pleas and counting.
“Every one of those pleas, you have to assume are people that are cooperating with the government and sharing information,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a non-profit criminal justice watchdog group.
In November, the case revealed that veteran accident attorney Daniel Patrick Keating was indicted on Nov. 5.
With Keating outed as the first name on a long list of suspects/attorneys tied to the scheme, the public can't help but wonder who the other attorneys on that list are.
But authorities say they're taking the case one step at a time, first focusing on indicting lower-level suspects, securing at least a few guilty pleas and cooperation, and then working their way up to higher-profile targets.
That said, WWL-TV had already connected attorney Vanessa Motta and her fiancé Sean Alfortish to accident lawsuits that were flagged as fraudulent.
The couple was again identified by code in a recent indictment from September in which a known slammer and eight passengers were charged with staging accidents. The accused ringleader in that indictment, Cornelius Garrison, was linked to more than 50 bogus accidents, including one where Motta settled his own personal injury claim for $650,000.
In an alarming development, Garrison was murdered four days after he was named in the indictment.
This is where the FBI stepped in, with the launch of its investigation into the deadly shooting that occurred within Garrison’s Mid-City apartment on Sept. 22.
Garrison's indictment refers to Alfortish as “Co-Conspirator A,” noting that Alfortish provided office space for Motta at his Kenner building, WWL-TV reports. Alfortish is a disbarred attorney who served time in federal prison after being convicted in an unrelated fraud case in which he rigged an election to remain president of the Louisiana Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association.
Dane Ciolino, an attorney representing Motta, has confirmed that his client is cooperating fully with authorities.
Court records show that other indicted suspects, including some who pleaded guilty, were represented in accidents claims by the King Firm, which is one of New Orleans' better known personal injury law groups.
David Courcelle, an attorney representing the King Firm, said attorneys at the firm are careful to avoid claims that they think might be fraudulent.
“While we cannot comment on any particular case, we are one of the many law firms who represented people who are now charged,” Courcelle told WWL-TV. “The King Firm worked hard to uncover the truth and took appropriate action in all cases.”
With FBI agents now working alongside other officials to thoroughly investigate the fraudulent scheme and bring all involved to justice, it appears that more indictments are soon to come.
New Orleans FBI Chief, Bryan Vorndran issued a warning along those lines, saying, "This is warning to anyone who's involved in this scheme or any other schemes that we're looking and we're coming and if you're involved in this or something similar, you may want to have a few sleepless nights between now and a few months out.”
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