Louisiana Record

Thursday, October 17, 2019

More than 100 people found guilty of swindling BP Deepwater Horizon Fund out of millions

By Charmaine Little | Feb 3, 2017

NEW ORLEANS — More than 100 people, including a former employee, are facing jail time after they were convicted of conning millions from the BP Deepwater Horizon Fund.

Charlie English III, a former claims adjuster for the Gulf Coast Claims Facility who admitted to defrauding the business out of $257,400, is just one of dozens of people who were convicted for participating in making fraudulent claims against BP Deepwater Horizon Fund. According to Petro Global News, the convictions come years after the organization agreed upon a $20.8 billion civil settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and five Gulf States following the April 2010 oil spill, the biggest in the nation’s history, which left 11 people dead.

Dane Ciolino, a legal expert and Loyola University New Orleans law professor, said residents should not be surprised by the 187 convictions.

“It's just a tremendous number of claims with lots of money available for distribution," Ciolino told The Louisiana Record. "I don't think we should be surprised that there was fraud associated with this.”

But could the illegal action of hundreds prevent those who have real damage from the oil spill from receiving the assistance they need? Ciolino said it is difficult to predict how the organization will move forward with similar claims.

“It's hard to think about... ," he said. "This environmental disaster was truly unprecedented. There have been many other mass ones and class actions in the past. But this one spanned several states, affected hundreds of thousands of people and caused billions of dollars’ worth of economic losses and property damage. So it's hard to think about comparable cases because this really was fairly unprecedented.”

Still, there is also an underlying question of how such a large number of people were able to commit a serious crime with such high dollar amounts involved, especially when considering the attorneys who assisted the violators in filing the claims.

“A lawyer isn’t subject to discipline unless he has actual knowledge that his client is engaged in fraudulent activity," Ciolino said. "A lot of times, lawyers simply have to take their clients at their word. Particularly in this case, when so many of the claims did not have any corroboration other than simply verbal reports about losses due to the spill. It doesn’t surprise me.”

He revealed that some lawyers have received “discipline for misconduct.” But the number is relatively low when compared to the total number of fraudulent claims and “the large amount of money in play.”

While 187 people have been convicted, Ciolino is confident there is “no doubt” more out there who have not been charged for filing false complaints.

A Mississippi woman, Thi Houng Le, 34, received seven years in federal prison and three years of supervised release. Caridad Rioseco Alejandrez of Florida was ordered to pay more than $600,000 for helping file fake claims. The Louisiana Record previously reported that English was also ordered to pay his restitution of more than $257,000. He will also be on probation for three years.

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Loyola University New Orleans