GULFPORT, Miss. – The Latest on the trial of a Texas lawyer accused of inflating his client list for Gulf oil spill litigation (all times local):
The head of the 2010 oil spill claims office says he was suspicious when San Antonio attorney Mikal Watts told him he was handling claims from 41,000 fishermen.
Kenneth Feinberg was the first witness Wednesday in the federal fraud case against Watts and six co-defendants. They’re accused of inflating Watts’ client list.
Kenneth Feinberg read a letter telling Watts “It’s hard to believe there are even 41,000 fishermen in the Gulf who would even file a claim.”
And, he wrote Watts, the claims office had paid $1 billion to 50,000 people, and he was skeptical that Watts alone could nearly double the list.
During cross-examination, attorney Michael McCrum had asked Feinberg if he knew about other cases in which Watts had represented 25,000 to 80,000 people. Feinberg said no to each of them.
A federal prosecutor has told jurors in Gulfport, Mississippi, that evidence will prove Texas lawyer Mikal Watts and six co-defendants fraudulently inflated his client list for lawsuits against BP after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerry Rushing said in his opening statement Wednesday that the list included people who died before the spill and people whose names and Social Security numbers were used without their permission.
Lawyers for three defendants say field workers committed fraud and duped their clients. Those defendants include two employees of Watt’s law firm and Hector Eloy Guerra, whose lawyer described him as the liaison between the law firm and the field workers.
The law firm employees were Watts’ brother and data analyst David Watts and manager Wynter Lee.
Lawyers for two field workers were scheduled for opening statements after a lunch break.
Mikal Watts is representing himself. He and the third field worker’s attorney plan to make their opening statements after prosecutors have presented all their evidence in the case.
Opening statements are scheduled in a fraud case against a Texas lawyer accused of inflating his client list for Gulf oil spill litigation.
Online court records show prosecutors dropped 22 counts of fraud before jury selection began Monday in the case involving litigation from the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Prosecutors contend that attorney Mikal Watts of San Antonio, two non-attorney members of his law firm and four contract field workers invented victims or used real people’s names without permission to land Watts a spot on the lucrative BP litigation steering committee and inflate legal fees he might collect.
Watts has pleaded not guilty along with the others.
U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. has said the trial is expected to take six to 10 weeks.