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Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon. Photo from the U.S. Coast Guard

Attorney, six others indicted in oil spill fraud case

GULFPORT — A Texas attorney and six others have been indicted on fraud charges involving BP money distributed after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The indictment, unsealed Thursday morning, lists as defendants Mikal C. Watts, principal partner in the law firm of Guerra and Craft Watts, and two of his employees. They are his brother, David Watts, and Wynter Lee.

Also indicted are the owners of three companies. They are Gregory P. Warren, principal owner of IP Development LLC in Lafayette, La. and K&G Consulting LLC in Pascagoula; Hector Eloy Guerra, who lived in Westaco, Texas, who was principal owner of JEG Development LLC; and Thi Houng Le, aka Krisy Le, who was principal owner of K&G Consulting LLC in Pascagoula.

Thi Hoang Nguyen, aka Abbie Nguyen, is the sister-in-law of Kristy Le and was also indicted,

Initial court appearances for all but one are set for 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

Thi Houng Le’s first court appearance is set for Nov. 9.

BP sued Watts in December 2013, alleging he and his law firm, Watts Guerra, had committed “brazen fraud” by claiming to represent more than 40,000 deckhands eligible for payments under the company’s Seafood Compensation Program. BP’s complaint says, “But we now know that over half of Watts’ alleged clients were phantoms: individuals never represented by Watts, in a number of cases not even commercial fishermen, and in some instances individuals who are deceased.”

Watts’ client list comprised more than 76 percent of potential claimants eligible for compensation under the program, BP contended, leading BP to set aside $2.3 billion for payments. In its lawsuit, BP asked that the amount of the fund be reduced and also sought to suspend a second round of payments while the case was pending. Judge Carl Barbier, who is presiding over the BP catastrophe litigation in the Eastern District of Louisiana, in February 2014 suspended the case pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.

Watts, who specializes in catastrophic personal injury and product liability cases, has denied any wrongdoing. The trial attorney has made millions in product liability cases, including SUV-rollover litigation against Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co.

Watts has long been a major donor to Democratic candidates, both in Texas and nationally. In 2007, he even launched his own bid for a U.S. Senate seat before pulling out of the race, according to news reports in Texas. The New York Times reported that in July 2012 he hosted a campaign event for President Obama that cost $35,800 a plate.

Watts has made millions in product liability cases, including SUV-rollover litigation against Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. The biography on his law firm’s website says he was listed as a Texas Super Lawyer from 2003-2012. It also says that he once worked as a briefing attorney for the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

SunHerald.com is working on an updated report.

In related news, U.S. Supreme Court rejects BP, Anadarko over Deepwater Horizon spill penalties.

This article was written by Robin Fitzgerald and Anita Lee from The Sun Herald and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.