Accounting firm under scrutiny after being asked to repay audit fee in 'fraudulent' BP claim

By Kyle Barnett | Feb 26, 2014

Louis Freeh

(This article has been updated).

NEW ORLEANS – An accounting firm that prepared an audit of a settlement claim against BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that was later found to be fraudulent is being asked to repay the fee received for the audit, however, there is a question as to what that fee really was.

Special investigator Louis Freeh previously asked U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to order the Coastal Claims Group LLC (CCG) to repay $20,182.50 over its audit of a $357,000 claim brought by the Andy Lerner law firm on behalf of commercial shrimper Casey Thonn.

CCG provided a clean audit for Thonn’s claim, but the accounting practices undertaken to produce the $357,000 figure were later questioned after investigation, according to court documents.

“Mr. Thonn presented false information and documents, including purported tax ‘returns’ that in fact had never been filed with the Internal Revenue Service to support his alleged seafood compensation claim,” an earlier filing read.

Freeh’s latest filing questions CCG’s claim that it only made $14,280.10 when an invoice dated June 19, 2012 from CCG to Thonn’s attorneys shows a bill in the amount of $20,182.50 for the service. The filing requests that CCG explain the procedures it used to ensure its submissions to the Court Supervised Settlement Program (CSSP) were reliable and asks the court to prohibit the firm from making further filings if it cannot provide sufficient explanation of their procedures.

The settlement became the center of an investigation into the CSSP last year when Freeh revealed attorney Lionel Sutton, a CSSP attorney at the time, had accepted a $40,000 referral fee from Las Vegas-based attorney Glen Lerner for the Thonn settlement.

In his initial report on the matter, Freeh called the referral fee a "money laundering scheme" that included undocumented payments from Lerner to a business owned by Sutton. At the time of the special report's release, Freeh indicated he turned over evidence of the alleged scheme to the Department of Justice, but no criminal investigation has yet been announced.

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