Judge: 22 BP fraud charges against lawyer duplicate others

GULFPORT, Miss. – The 95-count fraud indictment against a San Antonio lawyer and six co-defendants could be shorter when trial begins in Mississippi on federal charges accusing them of inflating a client list for BP oil spill litigation.

Twenty-two counts of aggravated identity theft appear to be “multiplicitous” — that is, to cover the same alleged offences as some of the 50-plus counts of identity fraud against Mikal Watts and the others, U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. told government attorneys Tuesday.

“I’m not sure dismissal of those counts is the remedy … but there must be a remedy to correct the multiplicitousness — I’ve just created a word — the multiplicitousness of the indictment,” the judge said.

Watts, two non-attorneys with his law firm and four field workers are accused of inventing victims of the 2010 oil spill to land Watts a spot on the lucrative BP litigation steering committee and inflate legal fees he might collect.

Watts, an attorney who has earned millions suing corporations over client injuries, maintains his innocence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerry Rushing said after the hearing he didn’t know what might be done other than dropping the aggravated identity theft charges. Attorney Chip Lewis, representing defendant Hector Guerra, said he’d be satisfied with that.

Watts’ co-defendants also say they are innocent. They are his brother David Watts and Wynter Lee, both of whom work in his law firm; and BP claim field representatives Hector Eloy Guerra of Weslaco, Texas; Gregory Warren of Lafayette, Louisiana; and Thi Houng Le and her sister-in-law, Thi Hoang Nguyen, both of Grand Bay, Alabama.

Watts, who is representing himself, got permission to testify as a narrative.

Rushing argued that it would be difficult for prosecutors to make objections in that format.

Watts answered, “I’m trying to overcome the seemingly ridiculous format of me asking questions and answering them.” He said he would use PowerPoint slides to describe the topics he was covering, and would provide those ahead of time to prosecutors.

The trial is scheduled to begin July 18 and last six to 10 weeks.


This story has corrected the number of counts to 95, not 94.