Texas Lawyer Acquitted on Fraud Indictments Over BP Damage Claims

A high profile white collar crime trial of a Texas lawyer and six co-defendants who faced fraud indictments over the BP Oil spill six years ago ended in an acquittal.

In August, a jury acquitted Mikal Watts, a San Antonio lawyer, two associates in his law firm and two BP claims workers. They faced 66 charges of conspiring to commit fraud, identity theft, mail fraud, and aggravated identity theft.

They were accused of making false compensation claims in the wake of the BP oil spill six years ago.

An earlier report in Insurance Journal said federal prosecutors reduced the number of indictments against Mikal Watts, a lawyer from San Antonio, and six co-defendants from 95 to 73.

Lawyer faces fraud indictments over BP scandal

A BP gas station

They allegedly faked 40,000 damage claims in the wake of the BP oil spill in 2010.

The report stated Jury selection for the case began on July 18 in Gulfport, Miss. The Insurance Journal report said U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. stated the charges dropped from the docket seemed to be the same alleged offenses as the 22 counts of aggravated identity theft on the indictment.

The seven defendants in the case faced 73 charges claiming they conspired to file false claims over the 2010 BP spill and stole the identities of victims who did not agree to be represented by the law firm. Federal prosecutors accused Watts and his associates of fraudulently submitting to the petroleum company the names of 40,000 people with claims that totaled more than $2 billion.

However, Watts and his associates denied the charges. The attorney opted to represent himself at trial over fraud indictments. Watts forged a reputation for earning millions of dollars in suing big corporations over injuries to his clients.

Additionally, Watts, two non-attorney members of his law firm and four contract field workers were accused of inventing the names of the victims or using the names of real people without their permission. Prosecutors claimed the move would allow Watts to gain a place on the BP litigation steering committee and to increase the legal fees he might collect from the case.

What Was The BP Disaster?

The BP oil spill of April 20, 2010, has been described as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. It also led to a loss of life.

The disaster followed the failure of a final cement seal on an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion claimed the lives of 11 oil rig workers.

The federal government estimates as many as 4.2 million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf, reported CNN. For 87 days, oil and methane leaked from the wellhead below the surface of the ocean. The consequences for wildlife and the beaches were devastating.

The subsequent litigation after the Deepwater Horizon spill was extensive and ranged from wrongful death lawsuits to property damage and compensation for health issues. BP set up a $20 billion fund for losses. Some of the lawsuit claims are explained here by Nolo.

White collar crimes by their very nature are complicated and involve large amounts of evidence gathering. See our white collar resources here.

If you are facing fraud indictments, identity theft or another white collar charges, you could end up in jail for a long period. Call Peek & Toland for expert legal representation at (512) 474-4445.

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