NEW ORLEANS – A shrimper who is alleged to have overstated his income and was provided a sizable settlement arising from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill is striking back against requests that he repay the amount in question.
The claim in question was for $357,002.35 that went to Casey Thonn, a commercial shrimp fisherman, who said he lost a significant amount of his income due to the oil spill.
The claim was the focus of a an investigation by Special Master Louis Freeh, an ex-FBI director, who found the matter had been referred to Thonn’s attorney, the Andry Lerner Law Firm, by Lionel Sutton.
Sutton was an employee of the Court Supervised Settlement Program, the body responsible for overseeing claims payments, and received a referral fee through a company he opened despite being employed by the agency providing the settlement.
After the investigation was under way, Freeh discovered that Thonn had falsified tax returns on which the settlement was based, according to court papers.
“Mr. Thonn presented false information and documents, including purported tax ‘returns’ that in fact had never been filed with the Internal Revenue Service to support his alleged seafood compensation claim,” one of Freeh’s filings reads.
Earlier this year Freeh requested a full repayment of the settlement claim and the court granted Thonn’s attorneys until March 21 to file a response. After that date passed Freeh asked the court to mandate Thonn repay the settlement in full.
“The Special Master respectfully requests the Court to enter a judgment granting the relief previously sought against Thonn and the professionals who assisted Thonn and benefited from this unjustified payment of $357,002.35 from the DHECC,” Freeh’s filing stated.
However, a few days later, legal representatives for Thonn and the Andry Lerner Law Firm responded by calling into question Freeh’s role the investigation.
“The Special Master cannot serve as both a fact finder and an advocate and, thus, has no authority to either file or pursue the instant Motion,” the filing read.
The Thonn party, which is no longer being represented by Andry Lerner, has requested an evidentiary hearing before repayment is mandated to determine if Thonn actually committed fraud as alleged by Freeh.
Further, Thonn’s counsel claims that the tax returns Freeh regarded as false were in fact amended returns and although not filed with the IRS, were filed with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility who flagged the claim before allowing it to go through.
“The investigation was triggered by an alleged inconsistency in the Original Return submitted by Thonn wherein he listed himself as both unemployed and as a fisherman. Materials furnished to Thonn’s prior counsel, Andry Lerner, by the Special Master, revealed that the Guidepost investigators were satisfied with the business income asserted by Thonn on the claims form and the unfiled Original Return and Amended Return,” the filing reads.
Thonn’s counsel has requested that Freeh’s request for full, immediate repayment be rejected.
“As an officer of the Court, the Special Master does not have the power to act as a litigant, any more than the Court itself does,“ the filing reads.