Oil Spill

Indictment accuses Texas lawyer of submitting false oil spill claims; he said he had 44,000 clients

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A Texas lawyer who once claimed to represent more than 44,000 victims in the BP oil spill has been indicted for allegedly submitting false claims for an inflated list of clients.

The indictment of San Antonio lawyer Mikal Watts is under seal, but his lawyer confirmed its existence. The San Antonio Express-News was the first to report the story. The New York Times and the Associated Press also have reports.

The big client numbers helped Watts gain a seat on a steering committee managing the litigation. He resigned the post in March 2013.

A suit filed by BP in December 2013 alleged that more than half the clients Watts claimed to represent in a program to compensate seafood industry workers turned out to be “phantoms.” According to the suit, Watts filed claims for nearly 44,000 people, but 45 percent of them used Social Security numbers from other people or dead people.

Watts’ lawyer, Robert McDuff, said the pending charges are related to allegations that Watts committed fraud or forgery. McDuff said Watts believed he was representing real people with real injuries, but it turned out he had been provided with inaccurate information.

In a statement, Watts said he looks forward “to a speedy trial and the opportunity to prove to a jury that I am not guilty of any crimes. I have spent my professional life working hard to protect the rights of those victimized by corporations like BP. When this trial is over, I look forward to getting back on the job, and to working for years to come.”

The News-Express notes that Watts is a Democratic fund-raiser and “kingmaker” who once raised money for President Obama.

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