NEW ORLEANS – Two Deepwater Horizon clawbacks of allegedly fraudulent claims worth a combined $330,000 have been granted by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier.
The clawbacks concern two separate claims filed by fisherman Jason Zirlott and Jarod Burrle who said they experienced decreased income and their ability to earn a living was harmed due to the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
Ex-FBI Director Louis Freeh, who was appointed by Barbier in 2013 to root out fraud in the claims program, has initiated 14 clawback requests worth just under $8 million on claims he says are fraudulent.
Before granting the Zirlott and Burrle clawbacks yesterday, Barbier had only granted one clawback during the two year period Freeh has served the court.
In an October 2014 clawback motion, Freeh accused Zirlott and his company Capt Jay, of attributing 2009 income made from a salvage operation as fishing proceeds. According to Freeh, the mis-characterization of his income wrongfully made Zirlott eligible for a settlement worth an additional $240,000.
Freeh said Cunningham Bounds LLC, the law firm that handled Zirlott’s claim, voluntarily repaid $43,222.81 in legal fees to the oil spill settlement fund.
Despite returning the legal fees, Cunningham Bounds defended Ziroltt’s claim as an innocent mistake. However, Barbier said Zirlott failed to produce any evidence to contradict Freeh’s accusations.
“The Special Master has submitted uncontroverted and convincing evidence that the claims of Capt Jay and Zirlott were paid based on false information furnished to the Settlement Program,” Barnbier’s ruling says.
Barbier barred Zirlott for life from participating in the BP settlement fund.
The Burrle clawback, which Freeh requested in a June 10, 2014 motion, was worth $50,015.87. According to Freeh, Burrle claimed he caught more than eight tons of seafood in the year before the oil spill, all from a 16-foot aluminum boat. In documents provided to the Deepwater Horizon claims center, Burrle claimed he used all eight tons of seafood to feed his seven-member family, which would have meant each family member devoured 10 pounds of seafood a day for an entire year.
Similar to Zirlott, Freeh accused Burrle of falsifying tax documents to support his claim.
“[T]here is ample, uncontroverted evidence that Burrle prepared false tax returns following the oil spill and submitted those return to the GCCF and DHECC solely for the purpose of supporting a fraudulent claim,” Barbier ruled. “[T]he Court finds that the current record is sufficient to support a finding that Burrle committed fraud, without an evidentiary hearing.”
In this clawback case, Barbier ruled that Woodbridge Baric Pre-Settlement Investments LLC, which provided a cash loan to Burrle against his settlement, will be responsible for repaying the claim.
“Woodbridge’s fault or lack thereof is irrelevant, and if the Court were to allow them to keep the payments when such payments were not owed to them under the contract with Burrle, Woodbridge would be unjustly enriched,” Barbier’s order says.
The Andry Lerner law firm represented Burrle, and will have to repay $7,502.38 it received in fees, Barbier ruled. This marks the second Andry Lerner settlement where Barbier has ordered a clawback.