SAN ANTONIO – A reportedly seven-figure referral fee from well-known San Antonio attorney to the former mayor is being questioned.
Prominent attorney Mikal Watts allegedly paid a seven-figure referral fee to Julian Castro sometime between his campaign for mayor and during his first year in office as mayor, calling into question Castro’s income at the time. Watts is currently on trial for alleged claims that he falsified more than 40,000 plaintiffs in lawsuits against BP for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The referral fee is suspected to have been paid to Castro in 2009. He served as mayor from 2009 to 2014. Castro referred a client to Watts while he was a trial lawyer in a private practice. The case involved survivor Enrique Mayoral of a 2006 drunk driving accident that left three of his family members dead.
Mayoral originally sought Castro’s firm to represent him. Castro felt the case, which involved a truck from an oilfield services company, needed larger representation. Castro referred the case to Watts.
Watts went on to win the case and collect a large judgment award, which he later referred a portion to Castro for referring the case to him and the large firm he represented. The referral fee was said to provide Castro income during his first year as mayor or if not then, during his race for mayor.
Mayoral has said that Castro played a large part in the lawsuit by being present at meetings and physically taking Mayoral to appointments because he couldn’t drive because of a stroke. Castro told the Express-News that he worked on the original court petition for the case and did background research for the case as well as joining mediation and settlement negotiations regarding the case, which was expected to be costly because of the involvement of the oilfield vehicle the driver was in.
While the amount of the referral fee has not been disclosed because a judge sealed the records, Trish DeBerry-Mejia, a mayoral candidate, was quoted in a 2009 article saying the amount was $1 million. Watts has said he can’t confirm the amount because of a confidentiality agreement.
While it is uncertain if the fee was paid to Castro before or after he entered office as mayor, it is certain that it was used to resurrect his political career and campaign, providing stability and a source of income to him as a candidate.
Watts has a reputation as a large Democratic donor and bundler that donates to candidates to the cap level and then seeks others to donate to the same candidates. During President Barack Obama’s campaign for presidency, Watts hosted an event for 1,200 people that paid $250 each to see Obama. He later invited 75 people to his home for a private fundraiser at $35,800 a plate also for the Obama campaign.
While Watts contribution to Castro is being questioned, Watts has bigger problems with indictment of himself and six other co-workers for allegedly creating fraudulent claims for the BP oil spill. Watts and the six other defendants were charged with 95 counts of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, identity theft and aggravated identity theft. The counts have been reduced to 73.