Louisiana Federal Accident Staging Prosecutions: Major Indictment Announced in Murder Investigation of Slain Conspirator/Witness

On May 7, 2024 the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana announced a May 3 five-count indictment against Ryan Harris and Jovanna Gardner, including charges related to the murder of Cornelius Garrison. Garrison was an alleged ringleader in staged commercial vehicle accidents who was supposedly cooperating with federal authorities when he was gunned down. The pair of indictees were arrested before the unsealing of the indictment and brought to court on May 6, at which time the federal magistrate remanded the indictees upon the prosecution’s request.

Federal prosecutors allege that Harris, Gardner, and Cornelius Garrison participated in staged accidents in the New Orleans area, leading to multiple false insurance claims. The scheme, as previously reported, involved “slammers” who would intentionally strike 18-wheelers, then flee the scene in vehicles driven by “spotters” after being replaced by others as alleged drivers. Prosecutors allege the involvement of attorneys who knowingly pursued the fraudulent claims and knowingly filed fraudulent lawsuits.

The indictment details Garrison’s cooperation with law enforcement, which began in October 2019. Garrison was indicted on September 18, 2020. Following that filing, the indictment alleges Harris and Gardner murdered and aided and abetted Garrison’s murder to prevent Garrison’s further cooperation.

The counts of the indictment include Conspiracy to Commit Mail and Wire Fraud, Committing and Conspiracy to Commit Witness Tampering through Murder, and Retaliation and Conspiracy to Retaliate Against a Witness through Murder. The worst charges could lead to life imprisonment.

We previously reported that prosecutions had apparently been picking up steam over the past several months to a year ago. This indictment is the largest single announcement in some time. That federal prosecutors are now openly alleging Garrison’s cooperation and have made great strides in solving and now prosecuting his post-indictment murder is very encouraging.

Only one attorney, Danny Patrick Keating, has been openly named by prosecutors, and his sentencing has been postponed several times along with that of Damina Labeaud. Several persons involved are named only via pseudonyms, though there has been speculation as to their identities—without official confirmation from federal prosecutors or agencies. We will not speculate on such names and will wait for any indictments or naming as witnesses. However, with such weighty sentences over their heads, Harris and Gardner may consider cooperation with prosecutors, if they have not begun to do so already. That could lead to other breakthroughs in this far-reaching commercial vehicle accident staging investigation.

As noted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Operation Sideswipe, as the investigation is called, has thus far yielded 52 indictments and 44 guilty pleas.

Read previous updates on the commercial trucking accident staging ring >