United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana

05/07/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/07/2024 10:44

Five Count Indictment Unsealed Charging Local Pair with Conspiracy to Commit Murder of Federal Witness in Connection with the Staging of Automobile Collisions in the New[...]

Press Release

Five Count Indictment Unsealed Charging Local Pair with Conspiracy to Commit Murder of Federal Witness in Connection with the Staging of Automobile Collisions in the New Orleans Area

Tuesday, May 7, 2024
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS - The U.S. Attorney's Office announced the unsealing of a Five Count Indictment charging RYAN J. HARRIS ("HARRIS"), age 35, of New Orleans, Louisiana and JOVANNA R. GARDNER ("GARDNER"), age 39, of Chalmette, Louisiana. The Indictment was returned on Friday, May 3, 2024, and unsealed on Monday, May 6, 2024, after both HARRIS and GARDNER were arrested by special agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Both HARRIS and GARDNER are charged in all five counts of the Indictment. Count One charges Conspiracy to Commit Mail and Wire Fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1341, 1343, and 1349. Count Two charges Conspiracy to Commit Witness Tampering Through Murder in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1512(a)(1)(C), 1512(a)(3)(A), and 1512(k). Count Three charges Witness Tampering Through Murder in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1512(a)(1)(C), 1512(a)(3)(A), and 2. Count Four charges Conspiracy to Retaliate Against a Witness Through Murder in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1513(a)(1)(B), 1513(a)(2)(A), and 1513(f). Count Five charges Retaliation Against a Witness Through Murder in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1513(a)(1)(B), 1513(a)(2)(A), and 2.

According to the Indictment, HARRIS, GARDNER, Cornelius Garrison ("Garrison"), and others participated in a scheme in which they intentionally caused staged automobile collisions with other vehicles in the New Orleans metropolitan area. The scheme included individuals who rode in automobiles as passengers knowing they would be part of staged collisions. Those individuals later lied as part of fraudulent insurance claims and fraudulent lawsuits based on the staged collisions. GARDNER was a passenger in a staged collision. Additionally, the scheme included individuals who drove automobiles and intentionally collided with 18-wheeler tractor-trailers and other commercial vehicles in order to stage collisions ("slammers"). After the staged collisions, the slammers would flee the scene and a passenger would falsely claim to have been driving at the time of the collision. HARRIS was a slammer. HARRIS also recruited and conspired with others to participate in staged collisions. Additionally, the scheme included individuals who drove getaway cars that allowed the slammers to flee the scene after causing a collision and evade detection by law enforcement ("spotters"). The spotters would sometimes also pretend to be eyewitnesses who would flag down the commercial vehicles after the staged collisions and allege that the commercial vehicles were at fault. Additionally, the scheme included individuals such as attorneys and others associated with the attorneys who pursued fraudulent claims and fraudulent lawsuits knowing they were based on staged collisions.

Garrison worked with HARRIS as a slammer and spotter. Similar to HARRIS, Garrison recruited others to participate in staged collisions. Both HARRIS and Garrison caused or attempted to cause passengers in the staged collisions to use the services of attorneys who were part of the scheme. Between approximately March 4, 2015, and the date of the Indictment, HARRIS, GARDNER, Garrison, and others caused multiple staged collisions with the purpose of later filing fraudulent insurance claims and fraudulent lawsuits based on the staged collisions. The scheme involved the use of the mail and the use of interstate wires, including through the filing of fraudulent insurance claims and fraudulent lawsuits.

In or around October 2019, Garrison began covertly cooperating with the federal government concerning staged automobile collisions. On September 18, 2020, Garrison was charged in an Indictment in the Eastern District of Louisiana with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud and other offenses related to the staged collisions. The Indictment alleges that on September 22, 2020, HARRIS and GARDNER murdered, and aided and abetted the murder of Garrison as part of a scheme to prevent Garrison from cooperating with the federal government and exposing the scheme to stage collisions.

If convicted, HARRIS and GARDNER face up to twenty (20) years imprisonment, up to three (3) years of supervised release, and up to a $250,000 fine or twice the gross gain to any defendant or twice the gross loss to any victims as to Count One. As to each Counts Two through Five, the defendants face life imprisonment, up to five (5) years of supervised release, and up to a $250,000 fine. For each of the five counts, HARRIS and GARDNER also face payment of a mandatory $100 special assessment fee.

HARRIS and GARDNER made their initial appearance before United States Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby on Monday, May 6, 2024, and were remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service after the government moved for their detention.

Thus far, fifty-two (52) defendants have been charged in the federal probe into the staging of automobile collisions with other vehicles in the New Orleans metropolitan area.

The U.S. Attorney's Office reiterated that the Indictment is merely a charge and that the guilt of the defendants must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The U.S. Attorney's Office would like to acknowledge the tremendous work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the New Orleans Police Department, and the Louisiana State Police with this matter. The prosecution of this case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew R. Payne; Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian M. Klebba, Chief of the Financial Crimes Unit; Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Ryan McLaren; and Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Benjamin Myers.

Contact

Shane Jones

Community Outreach Coordinator

U.S. Attorney's Office

Eastern District of Louisiana

Updated May 7, 2024
Topic
Financial Fraud