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A New Orleans motor carrier has filed a federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act civil lawsuit against a New Orleans attorney and two convicted participants in a pair of staged accidents with tractor-trailers in 2017.

The carrier, Southeastern Motor Freight Inc., alleged in the lawsuit that it was defrauded by attorney D. Patrick Keating of Nugent Keating law firm, saying Keating conspired with Damian Labeaud and Mario Solomon in a pair of June 2017 staged accidents. Earlier this year, Labeaud pleaded guilty to being a ringleader in the incidents, and Solomon admitted to being a “spotter,” or driver of a trailing vehicle, in the intentional crashes with tractor-trailers.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court Sept. 1, alleged that personal injury attorney Keating paid the participants in the crashes in return for referrals of other members of the fraud ring, who would falsely claim to be injured in the accidents and blame the truck drivers for the collisions. Keating was identified as “Attorney A” in a 2019 indictment charging the group with fraud. He was one of two attorneys cited in that case.

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In both accidents, the individuals named in the federal fraud indictments blamed the truck drivers for causing the crashes. However, neither Keating nor the other attorney — both of whom were unnamed in that slate of indictments — has been charged with a crime.

“Southeastern Motor Freight Inc. was a victim of a racketeering enterprise and scheme existing between Mr. Keating of Nugent Keating law firm, Mr. Labeaud and Mr. Solomon to conspire to stage multiple accidents involving tractor-trailers for the purpose of defrauding the owner of the tractor-trailer and its insurer in a bodily injury claim arising out of the staged accident, and to conspire to commit wire fraud in connection with the staged accidents,” the Sept. 1 lawsuit alleged.

If successful, a RICO lawsuit could result in a plaintiff being awarded triple monetary damages. RICO is a U.S. law, enacted in 1970, that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise.

The lawsuit alleges the two accidents took place between the Danziger Bridge and the intersection of Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road in New Orleans. (Google Maps)

The lawsuit references two staged accidents in June 2017 in which Southeastern was a victim. The lawsuit alleged that the first of the two staged accidents occurred June 6, 2017, between the Danziger Bridge and the intersection of Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road in New Orleans. A second crash, on June 12, 2017, occurred at the same location.

“A petition for damages was filed by attorneys, Keating and the Nugent Keating law firm, on behalf of all Plaintiffs,” the lawsuit said. “Plaintiffs alleged that [Southeastern truck driver] Michael Smith was traveling in the center westbound lane of Chef Highway, and that he changed lanes and sideswiped plaintiffs’ vehicle traveling in the right westbound lane of Chef Highway. Plaintiffs alleged that Mr. Smith was negligent and the sole cause of the accident at issue, and alleged numerous damages in discovery including property damage and bodily injury.”

“This sort of behavior and conduct has to stop,” said Southeastern’s attorney, Douglas Williams of Baton Rouge, La. “It undermines the courts, and it undermines the practice of medicine when you have people that deliberately and fraudulently stage accidents, particularly when you have an attorney who is an officer of the court actively participate.”

Williams added, “I think this is the part of the process of restoring public trust. This was clearly a criminal enterprise involving more than one person, and more than one staged accident.”

An unidentified woman who answered the phone at the Nugent Keating law firm replied, “No comment,” and hung up the phone on a reporter seeking comment.

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