Texas lawyer Mikal C. Watts has been indicted by a Mississippi federal grand jury for claiming he represented more than 44,000 clients involved with the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill case.
BP’s Macondo well blew up off Louisiana’s coast in 2010, destroying Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon rig and spilled millions of gallons of oil into the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.
In the aftermath, Watts joined the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee—a group of lawyers who handled claims against BP—with more than 44,000 clients under his representation. Watts claimed that about 40,000 of these clients were deckhands projected to be claimants under BP’s compensation program.
But concerns regarding Watts’ client list began in 2011 when people attempting to file for compensation claims discovered they were already being represented. More than 40 percent of the Watts’ listed social security numbers belonged to a living person other than the claimant. Additionally, about 13 percent of the social security numbers were incomplete and five percent belonged to a dead person other than the listed claimant.
BP filed a lawsuit against Watts in 2013 alleging that his falsified numbers overinflated a court-approved $2.3 billion settlement that the company set aside to compensate those impacted by the spill.
BP’s suit and Mississippi’s indictment allege that nearly half of the Watts’ listed clients were falsified using the social security numbers of claimants who were unaware they were being represented.
Amid a flurry of controversy, Watt resigned from the Plaintiffs Steering Committee in March 2013 following reports that his San Antonio office was raided in a federal probe centered on his named Mississippi clients.
Watts ultimately filed just 648 individual crew claims and only eight of those were found to be eligible for payment by the compensation program.
Robert McDuff, who is representing Watts, has rebuffed allegations saying any irregularities were due to his client receiving inaccurate information. Watts has previously claimed that he received clients via referral service, but has never received payments from BP.