Five more plead guilty to staging crashes in ‘Operation Sideswipe’

June 3, 2021

Land Line Staff

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Five more people have pleaded guilty to their roles in a sweeping conspiracy to stage crashes with commercial vehicles in the hopes of bilking motor carriers and their insurers out of personal injury settlements.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana announced plea agreements with the following defendants:

  • Lois Russell, 61, of Gibson, La.
  • Tanya Givens, 43, of Gibson
  • Henry Randle, 64, of Gibson
  • John Diggs, 60, of Thibodaux, La.
  • Dakota Diggs, 25, of Fort Smith, Ark.

All five pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with the crash scheme, which federal investigators have dubbed “Operation Sideswipe.”

The charges against Russell, Givens and John Diggs stem from a staged crash that occurred on March 27, 2017, on Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road in New Orleans.

According to the plea agreement, all three were in Russell’s vehicle as it was driven by co-defendant Roderick Hickman of Baton Rouge, when Hickman intentionally struck a tractor-trailer. Hickman then fled the scene with Damian LaBeaud, another co-defendant who pleaded guilty last year and who federal authorities have named as one of the ringleaders in the scheme.

Russell told New Orleans police investigating the crash that she was the driver and she, along with Givens and John Diggs, made claims for personal injuries. In total, the victim trucking and insurance companies paid out $272,500 in fraudulent claims.

Another passenger in the vehicle, James “Curtis” Williams, 65, also of Gibson, has been charged in connection with the investigation but was not part of the plea agreement.

Federal indictments claim that Hickman and LaBeaud, of New Orleans, staged at least 100 crashes between 2015 and 2017.

The pair were also responsible for recruiting victims who were referred to personal injury attorneys, who then paid Hickman and LaBeaud for the referrals as part of the alleged conspiracy. Hickman also pleaded guilty to conspiracy last year.

Randle and Dakota Diggs’ guilty pleas stem from a May 17, 2017, crash near U.S. Highway 90 East and Calliope Street in New Orleans. That crash also involved Labeaud and co-defendants Mario Solomon and Ryan Wheaten. Labeaud and Solomon fled the scene, while Randle falsely reported to police that he had been driving and that the tractor-trailer had struck his vehicle.

Randle, Dakota Diggs, and Wheaten made claims for personal injuries. The victim trucking and insurance companies paid out approximately $10,000 in fraudulent claims. Solomon has previously pleaded guilty. Wheaten is not part of the plea agreement.

The latest round of agreements brings the total number of defendants to plead guilty in the conspiracy to at least 20. A total of 33 defendants, including one personal injury attorney, have been charged. LL

Previous coverage of this case:

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