There’s a huge twist in the complicated legal fight surrounding BP and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Federal prosecutors are now investigating one of the lawyers on the powerful Plaintiff’s Steering Committee (PSC) amid charges of fraud related to his large list of clients Gulf Coast residents and small business owners who were affected by the BP spill. That list of plaintiffs is what got this Texas attorney, Mikal Watts, on the PSC, where he stands to reap tens of millions in legal fees. Proving motive will not be a problem.
There’s another irony in this twisted plot: Attorney Watts is also a major fundraiser for President Obama who hosted a private $35,800-a-plate event for Obama at his San Antonio home and who even received a cake from the grateful commander-in-chief:
Now, the San Antonio Express-News is reporting that Watts is in hot water with Obama’s Justice Department:
Earlier this month, Secret Service agents, who not only protect the president but investigate cases of fraud, counterfeiting and identity theft, served search warrants at Watts’ two law offices on the Northwest Side, the San Antonio Express-News has confirmed with federal officials and Watts’ attorney.
Federal officials confirmed the raids, but won’t discuss the scope or the timetable of the probe, including when it began. “It’s an ongoing investigation,” said Brian Leary, a Secret Service spokesman in Washington, D.C.
The allegation is a stunning one: That Watts used an inflated — and possibly in some cases bogus — client list to worm his way onto the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee. That’s the insider clique of lawyers who have been guiding the settlement talks with BP and are set to reap hundreds of millions for their inclusion in the group.
How is Watt accused of doing this?
As first reported by the New York Times in 2011, Watts previously has been accused of discrepancies in the litigation against BP as he made his way onto the plaintiffs steering committee, an exclusive group of lawyers appointed to manage their side of the litigation. Lawyers on such committees typically reap a financial bonanza for their efforts.
A large list of clients can help secure a seat on the committee, but his client list came under question, with discrepancies about Vietnamese people in the Gulf region who say they never hired his firm, according to the Times report. Some maintained they never signed up with any lawyer, but found claims had been filed on their behalf, the Times reported.
Others along the coast said they had handed over financial records to people who promised them quick and free financial assistance, only to discover later that they actually had hired a lawyer. Still others told the Times they were misled into signing up for a lawyer by being told they were applying for medical assistance.
Former Louisiana law student Felix Cao told the Express-News he didn’t have any a claim, yet was targeted by mass mailings from the Watts firm, which claims it obtained a retainer from him.
As a lawyer involved with the Deepwater Horizon case from Day One — with hundreds of clients along the Gulf Coast that I obtained the old-fashioned way — I can tell you that these allegations may be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to improper conduct by watts. These attorneys took on a sacred trust to fight for the interests of the many who were wronged by BP’s recklessness, and any misconduct hurts all of us.
Read more about the federal probe of Mikal Watts at: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/S-A-Democratic-stalwart-eyed-4311412.php#ixzz2M8T4cNHp