NEW ORLEANS – A New Orleans law firm that has a growing list of clients who based their BP Deepwater Horizon claims on false tax returns is facing yet another fee clawback, according to court records.
The Andry Lerner law firm, whose principals Jon Andry and Glen Lerner are facing potential federal court sanctions related to a separate Deepwater Horizon suit, are being asked to return fees related to the claim of Tony Riley, a Plaquemines Parish boat captain who received a $221,000 settlement payment from the oil giant. Special Master Louis Freeh, in court filings this week, accused Riley of doctoring IRS forms to support his claim. He has asked District Judge Carl Barbier to order return of the payment and for Andry Lerner to return the $54,000 in fees it made from the claim.
Freeh, an ex-FBI director recruited by the court to ferret out fraud in the massive Deepwater Horizon settlement, has demanded clawbacks from other Andry Lerner clients. In a report filed with the court last year, Freeh accused Andry and Lerner of trying to corrupt claims facility workers in an attempt to get their clients' cases paid first. One of those cases involved Slidell shrimper Casey Thonn, who has pleaded guilty to filing a false claim for $357,000 and faces sentencing on a criminal conviction in the matter in June.
Barbier has ruled that Andry engaged in unethical behavior with regard to the Thonn case, but has yet to order punishment.
Freeh has accused Riley, a part-time shrimper, of presenting the Deepwater Horizon Economic Claims Center (DHECC) with a 2009 tax return to support his claim of $221,000 in damages related to the 2010 oil spill. Freeh in his filing said not only did Riley fail to file this return with the IRS, but failed to pay taxes on the supposed loss of catch attributed to the oil spill.
Freeh also accused Riley of claiming to have landed large catches of shrimp on the same days that he worked 12-hour shifts for a local shipping company.
According to Freeh, Riley, the owner of a 41-foot shrimping vessel, was initially granted $25,700 in seafood spill payments based on Louisiana Department of Wildlife trip tickets showing his shrimp landings. After that payment was granted Freeh says the Andry Lerner law firm sought reconsideration of Riley’s claim and filed the amended tax forms with the DHECC. Those tax forms exponentially increased Riley's claim.
“[T]he record unquestionably reveals that Riley knowingly presented false information to the Court-supervised DHECC to obtain $221,681,'' Freeh stated in his filing. "Riley falsified a tax form to reflect purported 2009 shrimping revenue, and submitted this form to the DHECC expecting the form to be used to calculate his claims.”
Given the newly uncovered evidence, Barbier has mandated that Riley return all unjustified payments received from the DHECC.
Andry Lerner also recently withdrew as the attorney for two other claims, suggesting that Freeh may be pursuing clawbacks against other firm clients further calling into question their future in representing Deepwater Horizon claimants.