Criminal investigation leads attorney to request stay on oil spill claims process

By Kyle Barnett | Jan 21, 2014

NEW ORLEANS – An attorney accused of falsifying his representation of tens of thousands of claimants in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill settlement is asking a federal court to stop actions concerning his clients in the settlement program until a criminal investigation is wrapped up.

Mikal Watts of San Antonio-based Watts Guera LLP law firm filed the request in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on Jan. 17.

It was common knowledge that Watts’ office had been raided by the Secret Service in March 2013, but this is the first formal indication that a criminal investigation concerning Watts is ongoing, according to Watts’ motion to stay.

In mid-December BP filed a lawsuit against Watts claiming he had faked half of the social security numbers of the nearly 43,000 claimants he asserted he to be representing. BP called those who could not be linked to social security “phantom” claimants and also found some of the names on the list belonged to deceased people.

The list of claimants Watts provided to BP in 2011 comprised 76 percent of the BP Seafood Fund for which BP set aside $2.3 billion. However, Watts only pursued 648 claims against the fund and of those only eight were found to be eligible for damages.

After it was revealed that the majority of the claimants on Watts’ list were thought to be a faked group of Vietnamese fisherman also filed suit claiming that Watts signed them up as clients even though they had never asked him to represent them. Those fishermen filed their own lawsuit earlier this month, saying Watts’ actions were based on their minority status and that thought that he could take advantage of him.

Watts first gained national attention for product liability litigation against Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford Motor Co. In 2005, he obtained a $31 million verdict against Ford for a rollover death.

He was also involved in suits against Merck & Co. Pharmaceuticals over the drug Vioxx and one report has estimated Watts has obtained settlements worth more than $2 billion.

Watts is known as a major donor to Democratic candidates. In 2012, he 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.

In 2008, Watts briefly made an attempt to run against John Cornyn for U.S. Senate, but pulled out of the race reportedly to spend more time with his family.

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