GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - A Texas lawyer is scheduled to appear in court Thursday on federal criminal charges stemming from litigation against BP for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, his lawyer said.
GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — A Texas lawyer is scheduled to appear in court Thursday on federal criminal charges stemming from litigation against BP for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, his lawyer said.
Defense attorney Robert McDuff confirmed that Watts is among the people charged in a sealed indictment, and is scheduled for arraignment Thursday afternoon.
"I look forward to a speedy trial and the opportunity to prove to a jury that I am not guilty of any crimes," Watts said in statement last week.
McDuff said he could not discuss specific charges, but they're related to allegations that Watts committed fraud or forgery when he claimed to represent 44,500 commercial fishing boat deckhands who were suing BP.
McDuff declined to say who else was indicted.
Watts and his law firm were sued in 2013 by the British oil giant. BP alleged that Watts and his law firm engaged in "brazen fraud."
The lawsuit claimed that more than half of Watts' clients were not commercial fishermen, were never properly signed up or were dead. BP said claims officials could verify the Social Security numbers of only 42 percent of Watts' claimants, and one person who had never hired Watts was listed twice.
Watts filed 648 compensation claims, with eight ruled eligible for payment and 17 others then pending, according to the lawsuit.
"More than 98 percent of the Watts claimants never even filed a claim with the Seafood Compensation Program, while 96 percent of the claims that he did file have been denied," BP attorneys wrote.
McDuff said Watts believed that he had legitimate clients but was given inaccurate information.
A judge put the lawsuit on hold while the criminal investigation unfolded.
BP said Watts' inflated client list made the company inflate its $2.3 billion settlement to pay commercial fishing claims. After the first $1 billion was paid, BP asked U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans to suspend payments from the fund. The judge refused, saying the questionable claims comprised a small percentage of the remaining money. Other lawyers said BP should pursue fraud claims rather than stop payments.
BP also said Watts' claims to represent tens of thousands of deckhands got him a seat on the committee of lawyers who negotiated the multibillion-dollar settlement with BP in 2012. Watts resigned from the steering committee during the federal investigation.