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Two indicted for allegedly murdering a federal witness in staged accident scam case

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NEW ORLEANS — Authorities have indicted two people for the murder of a witness in a federal investigation into more than 100 truck accidents staged for insurance fraud that netted millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains, WWL-TV reports.

Ryan Harris and Jovanna Gardner were indicted Monday for witness tampering through murder and conspiracy to retaliate against a witness through murder. They also allegedly participated in the staged wrecks through mail and wire fraud, WWL-TV reports.

Dozens were accused of packing into cars with mid-level “slammers” at the wheel to intentionally sideswipe 18-wheel trucks. The vast majority of the risky accidents were staged on stretches of I-10 and other major thoroughfares in New Orleans East, WWL-TV reports. This was one of the first red flags to draw intense scrutiny defense attorneys for the trucking companies and insurers first exposed the lawsuits as fraudulent.

Harris and Gardner are accused of carrying out the Sept. 22, 2020, execution-style shooting of Cornelius Garrison, who had secretly been cooperating with the FBI on the case. The witness' death was a major setback as authorities climbed the ladder from small-time scammers and street-level organizers to the attorneys and doctors. WWL-TV reports that authorities say the fraud raked in millions of dollars through bogus lawsuits and even unnecessary surgeries.

The case has led to 52 people being indicted and 44 of them pleading guilty, but only a single attorney, Danny Patrick Keating, entered a guilty plea in exchange for cooperation, WWL-TV reports.

“Ryan J. Harris aka 'Red' and Jovanna R. Gardner did kill, and aid and abet the killing of Cornelius Garrison, such killing constituting first-degree murder,” an indictment states. The crime potentially carries the death penalty, WWL-TV pointed out.

The new development unfolded without fanfare late Monday at a first appearance in federal court on Monday, WWL-TV reports. The eight-page indictment against Harris and Gardner was not entered into the federal court database until Tuesday.

Both defendants were clients of Hollywood stuntwoman-turned-attorney Vanessa Motta, a central figure in the staged accident probe after five truck accident lawsuits she filed on behalf of clients were frozen because of the long-running federal investigation.

Motta is listed as “Attorney B” in federal court documents. Her fiancé, Sean Alfortish, a disbarred attorney who served time in federal prison in an unrelated fraud case, is listed as “Co-conspirator A,” language that is usually a clear signal by prosecutors of criminal implications.

Neither has been charged, WWL-TV reports.


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