SAN ANTONIO – The federal government is investigating whether one of the high-profile attorneys involved in BP oil spill litigation falsified his client list in order to qualify for the plaintiffs’ steering committee.
Mikal Watts, a power player in South Texas product liability suits and a major donor to Democratic causes, saw his law offices in San Antonio raided by the U.S. Secret Service in February. The Secret Service investigates fraud, counterfeiting and identity theft in addition to protecting the president.
The San Antonio Express-News reported that the Secret Service agents were searching for records related to people who Watts' firm supposedly represented in litigation against BP.
After the Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010, thousands of suits and claims were made against BP. Watts sought a place on the plaintiffs’ steering committee, a potentially lucrative appointment. One of the criteria for selection to the committee is a large existing client list.
As first reported by the New York Times in 2011, Watts was accused of discrepancies on his list of clients. Some Vietnamese people claimed they never hired Watts or any lawyer, but found out that claims had been filed on their behalf.
Others said they believed they were signing up for medical or financial assistance but were actually hiring an attorney.
The federal probe is centered in Jackson, Miss., and led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi.
Watts has denied any wrongdoing.
“Mikal Watts is an honorable man,” said his lawyer, Mike McCrum, to the Express-News. “He has been serving and helping victims of tragedies for many years. Everything he has done in the BP litigation has been in good faith and with good intentions. I'm honored to represent him and his family.”
Last fall, Watts hosted a private $35,800-a-plate fundraiser for President Barack Obama at his home in The Dominion. The 75 guests included Mayor Julian Castro, U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, former mayor and HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and actress Eva Longoria, the Express-News reported.