More charged in Louisiana staged-accident scheme targeting fleets, insurers

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Trucking news and briefs for Friday, Feb. 18, 2022:

Seven more charged in New Orleans staged-accident scheme targeting trucking companies

U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans of the Eastern District of Louisiana announced this week seven more indictments in the widespread staged-accident fraud scheme targeting trucking carriers and their insurance companies.

Florence Randle, 70, of Gibson, Louisiana; Stacie Wheaten, 50, of Atlanta; Joseph Brewton, 56, of Houma, Louisiana; David Brown, 50, of Morgan City, Louisiana; Gilda Henderson, 69, of Morgan City; Latrell Johnson, 30, of New Orleans; and Larry Picou, 56, of Gibson, were all charged, bringing the total number of indictments in the case to 47.

All seven individuals were charged in a 10-count federal indictment. They were all charged in Count 1 with conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Brewton was charged in Counts 2-7 with mail fraud. Brown, Henderson, Johnson and Picou were charged in Counts 5 and 6 with mail fraud. Randle and Wheaten were charged in Counts 7 through 10, which charge mail fraud.

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of five years for Count 1 and 20 years for each of the mail fraud counts. Upon their release from prison, each defendant can be placed on a term of supervised release for up to five years and fined up to $250,000 per count.  A mandatory special assessment fee of $100 per count is also applicable.

According to court documents, Brewton, Randle and Wheaten served as intermediaries who directed passengers to participate in staged automobile accidents. Brewton allegedly helped to arrange collisions that took place on March 27, 2017 and May 11, 2017.  Randle and Wheaten allegedly helped to coordinate collisions on May 17, 2017 and June 5, 2017.

The indictment alleges that Brown, Henderson, Johnson and Picou falsely claimed that they were passengers in a car that was struck by a tractor-trailer on May 11, 2017. In fact, the defendants conspired with Brewton, Damian Labeaud, Mario Solomon, and others to intentionally collide with a tractor-trailer in the area of Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road in New Orleans, the indictment alleges. 

After the alleged intentional collision, Brown, Henderson, Johnson and Picou allegedly made a false police report, lied in depositions and filed fraudulent lawsuits claiming that the tractor-trailer was at fault. This scheme caused the insurance company for the tractor-trailer to pay over $140,000 in settlement funds. 

Kenworth receives largest BEV order to date

Kenworth announced this week that Jack Khudikyan, owner of AJR Trucking and MDB Transportation, has ordered 15 Kenworth T680E and 10 Kenworth K270E battery electric vehicles from Inland Kenworth – Montebello. It marks the largest Kenworth battery-electric vehicle order placed to date.  

AJR Trucking is a leading United States Postal Service contract carrier based in Los Angeles, and MDB Transportation provides transportation services including dedicated, port and rail, LTL and full truckload.

According to Khudikyan, this order is a major step forward for both companies to significantly reduce its emissions. In 2016, AJR and MDB began adding compressed natural gas (CNG) powered Kenworth T680s to reduce carbon emissions. Combined, the two companies operate more than 80 natural gas-powered trucks and continue to phase out its diesel trucks as operations allow.

“Several years ago, we made the decision to begin adding trucks that run on alternative fuels to reduce our carbon footprint and to better assist our customers in meeting their sustainability goals,” said Khudikyan. “It’s important to do what’s right for the environment, and we’re on a mission to one day achieve net zero emissions between the two companies. This order of Kenworth Class 6 and Class 8 battery-electric vehicles will assist us in meeting that goal.” 

AJR Trucking will use the K270Es to provide regional postal services in the greater Los Angeles area. The T680Es will operate in MDB Transportation’s drayage operations at the Port of Los Angeles.

To offset the cost of the Kenworth T680E and K270E battery electric vehicles, the companies qualified and received voucher incentives through the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP). 

Pennsylvania third-party CDL examiner pleads guilty to wire fraud

Roberto Correas pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Jan. 31 to 12 counts of wire fraud, according to the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General.

In November 2021, Correas, a former third-party CDL examiner, was charged after an investigation revealed that between February and March 2018, he provided pre-signed CDL skills examination score sheets to a co-conspirator, who completed the sheets with passing scores to fraudulently qualify individuals who did not actually take the CDL test.

In addition, between September and October 2018, Correas conducted CDL skills examinations on a company’s behalf. Correas charged applicants $275 each but kept the money instead of submitting it to the company.