The 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire was one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. Eleven workers were killed and several were injured. The damage continues to impact the wildlife and environment along the Gulf Coast, and devastated businesses in the region. BP has paid billions in fines and damages.
Many residents, businesses, environmental groups, and governments filed legitimate claims to recover some of those funds. However, the pot proved tempting for others who did not hold legitimate claims.
How many people went to jail for fraud related to the disaster? More than 300 people have been convicted and more than 100 have gone to jail for filing fraudulent claims.
How many people went to jail for causing the deadly disaster in the first place? None. Those who were charged were mainly low-level executives.
BP executives and workers were charged for crimes ranging from lying to investigators to manslaughter. The government dropped the manslaughter charges in 2015. Two defendants were eventually sentenced to probation for charges such as misdemeanor Clean Water Act violation, obstruction, and destroying evidence. Two others were acquitted of lying to federal agents and pollution.
The Truss family conspirator case demonstrates the inequities of sentencing. At the start of the year, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the convictions of conspirators in a Deepwater Horizon-related fraud scheme.
Marcella Truss was sentenced to 12 years and one month in prison, fined $1.9 million in restitution, and ordered to forfeit proceeds she acquired from the scheme. Her husband, Martee Davis, was given 13 years and three months incarceration and her brother, Howard Lenard Carroway, received an 8-year sentence. The co-conspirators used 37 different profiles to file more than 50 fraudulent claims.
When sentencing the trio, the U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case proclaimed,
“These defendants saw a disaster that blackened and fouled the Gulf of Mexico, spoiled much of its coastline and damaged or destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of people, and they chose to exploit the tragedy for their own criminal profit. We place a high priority on investigating and prosecuting such fraud to ensure that funds available to help victims of natural and man-made disasters do not fall into the hands of criminals.”
The FBI Special Agent followed up with a statement of commitment to investigate and bring to justice people who defraud the government. Neither spoke of the original offenses alleged against BP and other companies that caused the disaster itself.
This is typical of an environmental crime. The company itself usually agrees to pay a fine and restitution, but it cannot, of course, go to jail. High-level executives are often shielded from liability and rarely get charged, let alone convicted. Lower-level executives may find themselves the target of a government investigation.
In addition, the government aggressively prosecutes people accused of government fraud. As the Deepwater Horizon investigation demonstrated, the government’s approach to relief fraud is often out of proportion to the underlying crimes. Nobody should assume he or she is “small fry.” In fact, ordinary citizens and lower-level workers are most at risk and need the strongest defense possible at the investigative stage. Contact White Collar Defense today if you are facing charges. Let us help you understand your rights and options under the law.