LAFAYETTE, NEW IBERIA MEN PLEAD GUILTY TO ROLES IN VEHICLE INSURANCE FRAUD SCHEME
LAFAYETTE, La. – United States Attorney Stephanie A. Finley announced that Wardell Lockett, 27, of Lafayette; Aleric Johnson, 50, of New Iberia, La.; and Buddy Estelle, 53, also of New Iberia, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Richard T. Haik to participating in staged vehicle accidents in order to defraud insurance companies. Lockett pleaded Wednesday. Johnson and Estelle pleaded today.
According to evidence presented at the guilty pleas, Lockett, Johnson, and Estelle each admitted to different roles in at least one staged vehicle accident from 2003 until March 10, 2010. The co-conspirators drove cars, served as passengers or independent witnesses, or participated in some other way. Lockett admitted to being an independent witness and Johnson admitted to being a passenger. Estelle admitted to providing his car to be used in the staged accidents. As a result, the defendants made false claims and statements to law enforcement and insurance companies in order to fraudulently secure insurance payments.
They face up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine, and restitution for conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. Sentencing dates were not set.
Three other defendants have pleaded guilty to roles in the scheme. Warren Lockett pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit insurance fraud on October 29, 2013 and was sentenced on April 2, 2014 to time served and three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay restitution of $5,546. Oliver Lockett pleaded guilty on July 24, 2013 to the conspiracy charge as well, and Nicky Jones also pleaded guilty on February 4, 2014 to the same charge.
The Louisiana State Police Insurance Fraud and Auto Theft Unit conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney James T. McManus is prosecuting the case.