Criminal Justice

Lawyer goes on trial for alleged false oil-spill claims; prosecutors drop several counts

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Prosecutors dropped 22 of 95 counts against a Texas lawyer and six co-defendants as their trial began Monday for allegedly falsifying claims in the BP Gulf oil spill.

Prosecutors dropped 22 identity document fraud charges against San Antonio lawyer Mikal Watts and six associates, the Biloxi Sun Herald and the Associated Press report. Two of the defendants work at Watts’ law firm, and four were contract field representatives.

U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. of Gulfport, Mississippi, had pointed out that the 22 identity document fraud charges appeared to duplicate 22 counts of aggravated identity theft.

Watts, who has denied wrongdoing, once claimed to represent more than 44,000 victims. He filed a motion Monday that seeks to ban some testimony because of alleged Brady violations by prosecutors, Texas Lawyer (sub. req.) reports.

Watts said he didn’t receive 950 pages of grand jury testimony until 10 days before the trial, and didn’t receive Secret Service investigation reports until five days before trial.

Title of U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. corrected on July 20.

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