Two sentenced, two more plead guilty in Louisiana staged-accident fraud scheme

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Trucking news and briefs for Friday, July 2, 2021:

Two sentenced, two more plead guilty in Louisiana staged-accident scheme

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana announced four more guilty pleas in the widespread staged-accident fraud scheme in the New Orleans area that targeted motor carriers and insurance companies.

On June 23, James “Curtis” Williams and Ryan Wheaten entered a guilty plea to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. According to the plea, on March 27, 2017, Williams conspired with co-defendants Tanya Givens, John Diggs and Lois Russell to stage an accident with a tractor-trailer at the intersection of Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road. In total, the victim trucking and insurance companies paid out approximately $272,500 for fraudulent claims made after the staged accident.

Also according to the plea, on May 17, 2017, Wheaten participated in a staged automobile accident in the vicinity of U.S. Highway 90 East and Calliope Street in New Orleans. The victim trucking and insurance companies paid out approximately $10,000.00 for fraudulent claims made following the staged accident.

Williams and Wheaten face a maximum sentence of five years. Upon release from prison, Williams and Wheaten also face a term of supervised release 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.

Additionally, Anthony Robinson and Audrey Harris were sentenced to four years in prison for participating in a scheme to defraud a trucking company and their insurer by staging an automobile accident with a tractor-trailer on October 13, 2015.

The husband-wife duo worked with co-conspirators to stage an accident with a tractor-trailer that resulted in the victim trucking and insurance company paid out a total of approximately $4.7 million for the fraudulent claims 

In addition to the four-year prison sentences for Robinson and Harris, each were also sentenced to three years of supervised release. They must also pay a $100 mandatory special assessment fee. Regarding restitution, the couple and their co-conspirators will be held jointly and severally liable for restitution in the total amount of $5,073,358.25. The restitution amount includes the total settlement paid by the victim trucking company and their excess insurer, as well as attorneys’ fees incurred by the trucking company in the course of defending against the fraudulent civil lawsuit stemming from the staged accident. 

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NTSB Chairman Sumwalt steps down from post

After more than 15 years at the National Transportation Safety Board, Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt retired from government service Wednesday.

Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg will serve as the acting chairman until a new chair is confirmed by the Senate. President Biden nominated NTSB Member Jennifer Homendy May 20 to become the 15th chair of the NTSB.

Sumwalt’s tenure as the 14th chairman of the NTSB began in August 2017 after being nominated to lead the agency by President Donald J. Trump and confirmed by the Senate. He was renominated for a second term as chairman in August 2019.

Sumwalt came to the NTSB in August 2006 with his appointment as the 37th member of the agency, whereupon President George W. Bush designated him as vice chairman for a two-year term. President Barack Obama reappointed Sumwalt to an additional five-year term as a board member in November 2011. He was reappointed for another term by President Trump in 2017. 

The NTSB has five board members, each nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to serve five-year terms. By statute, the president designates, with Senate confirmation, a chairman. The president also designates a board member as vice chairman, however, Senate confirmation is not required for the vice chairman. The vice chairman and chairman each serve three-year terms.

Four Arkansas colleges partner to create public trucking school

The University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana along with three other community colleges – UA Cossatot, UA Rich Mountain, and ASU Three Rivers – have partnered to create the Arkansas Trucking Academy Consortium. 

The consortium received a $720,000 grant to start operations and begin training students to obtain a commercial driving license. The memorandum of understanding will cover two years from July 1 through June 30, 2023.

The program cost is $1,300, and classes will begin in the fall 2021 semester. It is the state's first and only public trucking academy.

“This is another pace-setting workforce solution that has grown out of conversations between leaders in industry and education," said Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. "Arkansas’s businesses had a problem, our educators stepped in to fill it, and we are able to support it with an Arkansas Regional Workforce grant. It’s a model for partnerships between the private sector and the government. Because of that, we soon will be putting more trucks on the road with first-rate drivers at the wheel.”

Large fleet gives drivers 10% pay increase

Dallas-based Stevens Transport (CCJ Top 250, No. 40) recently raised driver pay for the second time in 12 months, and the company said its the largest pay increase in its 41-year history.

The new compensation plan went into effect June 23 and increases OTR division pay by about 10%. 

Company drivers can now earn up to 60 cents per mile, depending on their level of experience, according to a statement from the company. Drivers in the dedicated and regional division can now earn up to 66 cpm, depending on the region, experience, and the customer they are delivering for.

Additionally, Stevens said teams in its expedited division will be earning more than $150,000 annually.