Indictment: Claims Included 4 Dead Before Explosion, 1 Dog

30 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

5 plead not guilty in Gulf oil spill fraud case; 2 absent.

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — A Texas lawyer, his brother and a second employee of his law firm are among seven people accused of faking more than 40,000 damage claims after the BP oil spill in 2010, federal prosecutors said Thursday. Seven individuals, one from Alabama, have been indicted by a federal grand jury after authorities say they filed fraudulent claims totaling more than $2 billion related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Other attorneys paid Mikal Watts’ law firm nearly $11 million for shares in his “seafood docket” of claims brought by deckhands on commercial fishing boats, according to the 95-count indictment unsealed Thursday in Gulfport, Mississippi. Attorney Gregory Davis said in a news release. “The indictment alleges that the defendants carried out mail and wire fraud schemes using stolen identities of coastal residents in order to enrich themselves.” The indicted parties are: Mikal C. Other defendants are David Watts; employee Wynter Lee; Hector Eloy Guerra of Westlaco, Texas; Gregory Warren of Lafayette, Louisiana; Thi Houng Le of Pascagoula, Mississippi; and Le’s sister-in-law, Thi Hoang Nguyen.

Defense attorney Robert McDuff has confirmed that Watts is among the defendants in a sealed indictment and is scheduled for arraignment Thursday afternoon. But, as the evidence at trial will show, there was no fraud on the part of Mikal Watts or the people who work in his office,” he wrote in a statement.

Prosecutors say that false claims were filed on behalf of people from four Gulf States, including Mississippi, alleging that in some cases the claimants were deceased. “Defendant Watts falsely claimed that each of these 41 victims was a deckhand on a commercial fishing vessel. McDuff says he cannot discuss specific charges, but they’re related to allegations that Watts committed fraud or forgery when he claimed to represent 44,500 commercial fishing boat deckhands who were suing BP.

BP said claims officials could verify the Social Security numbers of only 42 percent of Watts’ claimants, and one person who had never hired Watts was listed twice. “More than 98 percent of the Watts claimants never even filed a claim with the Seafood Compensation Program, while 96 percent of the claims that he did file have been denied,” BP attorneys wrote. Caldwell, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service Birmingham Field Office. “This case highlights the Secret Service’s investigative expertise in combating some of the most sophisticated, prolific financial crimes over our 150 year history.” Conspiracy carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. BP also said Watts’ claims to represent tens of thousands of deckhands got him a seat on the committee of lawyers who negotiated the multibillion-dollar settlement with BP in 2012.

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