More guilty pleas announced in New Orleans staged-accident fraud scheme

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Trucking news and briefs for Friday, June 18, 2021:

More guilty pleas in New Orleans staged accident scheme
United States Attorney Duane A. Evans announced two more guilty pleas in the widespread staged accident fraud scheme in New Orleans.

Doniesha Gibson and Erica Lee Thompson entered guilty pleas to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for their roles in staging crashes with tractor-trailers.

According to the guilty pleas, Gibson admitted to being a passenger in a staged accident on Oct. 15, 2015, in which the 2014 Dodge Avenger she owned drove into a bus while traveling on I-10. Gibson retained an attorney and made a claim for damages of approximately $677,500.

Thompson admitted that on Sept. 6, 2017, on I-10, she was a passenger in her 2015 Toyota Rav4 that was intentionally driven into a tractor-trailer owned by Averitt Express. She retained counsel and made a claim for damages that settled for $30,000.

In total, the victim trucking, bus and insurance companies paid out approximately $707,500 for these two fraudulent claims orchestrated by the defendants and others.

Gibson and Thompson face a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Upon release from prison, each defendant also faces a term of supervised release of up to three years, and/or a fine of $250,000 or the greater of twice the gross gain to each defendant or twice the gross loss to any person under Title 18, United States Code, Section 371. Sentencing in this matter is scheduled for November 3, 2021, before United States District Judge Sarah S. Vance.

Strong economic activity, capacity constraints impacting CV markets
According to ACT Research’s latest State of the Industry: NA Classes 5-8 Report, data through the first two weeks of June suggest that North America is at or very near the top of the freight rate expansion, which has been setting new highs on an almost monthly basis since last August.

While at or near the peak in terms of freight rates, ACT says the economic outlook is optimistic in anticipation of an extended runway of strong activity.

The monthly report looks at the current production, sales and general state of the on-highway heavy- and medium-duty commercial vehicle markets, detailing measures such as backlog, build, inventory, new orders, cancellations, net orders and retail sales.

“As has been the case since the start of the year, supply-chain constraints, rather than fleet/consumer demand, will be the primary determinants of how many vehicles are produced this year,” said Kenny Vieth, ACT Research’s President and Senior Analyst. “While the list remains long, build expectations suggest that work-throughs are coming into place.”

Vieth adds that the semiconductor shortage is expected to continue through the end of the year, “but reports suggest improvement from here, as chip supplies are reallocated to higher-value goods producers.”

He also notes that May’s Class 8 data was as expected in terms of orders, builds, backlogs, cancellations, inventories and sales.

FMCSA boss visits NY/NJ port to discuss disruptions
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Deputy Administrator Meera Joshi on Wednesday visited the Port of New York & New Jersey to discuss ongoing supply chain disruptions after the pandemic and the need for infrastructure investments.

Joshi met with leaders from the Port Authority, Maher Terminals, the New Jersey Motor Truck Association, and the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers to discuss prioritizing truck safety and current supply chain challenges, including trucking capacity, the historical increase in cargo volume, road congestion and more.

The visit was part of the Biden administration’s approach to addressing supply chain disruptions. Last week, the administration launched the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force to help address the issues.

“The pandemic has presented unprecedented economic challenges including supply chain disruption,” Joshi said. “It’s vitally important as a nation that we address these challenges using the tools at our disposal to minimize the impacts on workers, consumers, and businesses and bolster a strong economic recovery. [Wednesday]’s visit is critical in learning directly from port leaders and motor carriers about how we can help alleviate supply chain challenges while ensuring our roadways, including the ports, remain safe for truck drivers and all road users.”

In addition to this visit, the Department of Transportation, along with the other agencies that are part of the task force, will be holding meetings this month with stakeholders to diagnose problems and develop solutions – large and small, public or private – that could help alleviate near-term transitory bottlenecks and supply constraints. 

Top 250 fleet announces acquisition
Heyl Truck Lines (CCJ Top 250, No. 207) has acquired Holiday Express Corporation, a 50-truck and 80-trailer reefer fleet based in Estherville, Iowa.

Holiday, which offers local, regional and over-the-road services, will join Heyl’s fleet of more than 400 tractors and 900 reefers.

“The acquisition of Holiday Express is a positive move for Heyl Truck Lines, Holiday Express, and for all of our employees and customers,” said Bruce Koele, Heyl’s president. “There will be many additional opportunities for qualified drivers and support staff. We are excited about the additional resources, capacity, and services that we will be able to offer to our customers as a result.”