SAN ANTONIO – The trial for a well-known Texas lawyer accused of falsifying claims against BP in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is currently underway in Mississippi.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill leaked 4.9 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and claimed the lives of 11 people when the Deepwater Horizon exploded in 2010.
Mikal Watts and six others were indicted on 95 counts of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, identity theft, and aggravated identity theft, according to a statement by the Department of Justice. Since the indictment in October, the charges have been dropped to 73.
As part of the $2 billion in claims fraud that Watts is allegedly accused of, the Petro Global News reported that he, along with the six other defendants, allegedly stole the identity of a number of victims residing in the states surrounding the Gulf, including Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Alabama. The defendants are accused of using the information from the victims to create clients for the lawsuit against BP.
In total, more than 40,000 names were allegedly submitted as plaintiffs in the suit against BP without their knowledge or consent. Watts also attempted to obtain payment for the plaintiffs he claimed to be representing from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, according to the Petro Global News.
Since the trial began last month, Watts has fired his lawyer Rob McDuff and is representing himself. Watts is an experienced and well-recognized attorney from San Antonio.
So far during the trial, Watts has countered the testimony of claims fund administrator Ken Feinberg, requesting that evidence be marshaled, as reported by the Texas Lawyer. In the testimony by Feinberg, it was discovered that copies of Watts' clients' contracts were requested but never received.
Watts told the court that documents were provided, and offered a letter that supported the claim and showed that 25,481 client contracts were provided. The letter was addressed from Watts’ brother, David Watts, who is also a defendant in the case, to Feinberg. Watts referred to the matter as a “little miscommunication," according to the Texas Lawyer.
When Feinberg was questioned by the prosecutors, he explained that he had asked Watts for more formal evidence showing that there was indeed a relationship between Watts and the more than 40,000 clients. Feinberg said this is when he became suspicious of the claims and could not accept them.
The Texas Lawyer reported that Feinberg said the plaintiffs in the claims were likely already being represented by a competing lawyer and the likelihood of there being 40,000 actual claimants seemed fishy, such as the representation of Vietnamese fishermen who make their living in the Gulf of Mexico.