Texas mega donor and prominent plaintiff’s attorney Mikal Watts has been indicated on allegations that he committed fraud when purportedly signing up tens of thousands of clients following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The San Antonio Express News reported that a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Mississippi issued the indictment, which is under seal.
Watt’s attorney, Robert McDuff, confirmed the indictment on Oct. 21 and issued a statement denying that the San Antonio attorney committed identity theft.
Watts claimed he represented 44,500 coastal residents whose livelihood was damaged by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The staggering number of clients helped Watts gain a potentially lucrative spot on the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee.
As previously reported by the Record, the list of claimants Watts provided to BP in 2011 comprised 76 percent of the BP Seafood Fund for which BP set aside $2.3 billion.
However, Watts only pursued 648 claims against the fund and of those only eight were found to be eligible for damages.
Moreover, last year a group of Vietnamese fishermen sued Watts, alleging the trial lawyer committed fraud when he listed them as his clients in litigation against BP.
The plaintiffs accused Watts of “misappropriating” their identities, claiming that none of them authorized Watts to represent them.
Their suit further bolstered allegations made by BP.
In December 2013, BP filed suit against Watts, charging that the Social Security numbers of half of his plaintiffs were fraudulent.
According to the suit, BP called plaintiffs who could not be linked to their social security numbers “phantom” claimants, discovering that even some of the names on the list belonged to deceased individuals.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, the judge presiding over the massive BP litigation, stayed the suit, pending results of a federal investigation into Watts’ alleged misrepresentations.
After news of the Secret Service raiding his office broke, Watts stepped down from the Plaintiffs Steering Committee.
Watts has issued the following statement: “After years of waiting, I will now finally have my day in court. I look forward to a speedy trial and the opportunity to prove to a jury that I am not guilty of any crimes.”
Watts has donated millions of dollars to Texas Democrats, and in in July 2012 he hosted a fundraiser for President Obama.
Several gulf coast states, including Texas, and the federal government announced they had reached a settlement with BP on Oct. 5 for around $20 billion.