Fraud case against Texas trial lawyer goes to the jury

Texas lawyer Mikal Watts and six other people each had plenty of opportunity to know they had a fake client list and were pursuing bogus claims after 2010's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, prosecutors told Mississippi jurors Wednesday in closing arguments.

Watts himself and lawyers for the six others though said the government had failed to prove criminal intent to defraud, blaming fellow defendants or saying the government was misconstruing innocent actions.

U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. handed the case to jurors Wednesday, telling them to decide 66 felony counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, identity theft and aggravated identity theft.

It's one of the biggest fraud cases to result from the 2010 BP PLC oil spill, featuring a list of more than 40,000 clients that included dead people and a dog whose name was apparently lifted from a phone book. Prosecutors said most of those clients never agreed to be represented by Watts, and that at some point following the spill, all the defendants in the case knew the law firm's documents were riddled with errors, but kept pursuing claims anyway because of a potential multi-million dollar payoff.

"They had no contact with their clients. They had no information on their clients," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerry Rushing said. "Their names were used without their permission, many from the phone book."

He noted that at various points defendants hired a private investigator to track down Social Security numbers, or filled in questionable incomes and occupations. Rushing pointed out claim letters sent to BP for clients that Watts and others had already been told were dead. He noted the firm asked BP for money even on behalf of two clients who had signed statements prepared by Watts' firm saying they weren't oil spill victims, in an effort to squelch a Louisiana attorney misconduct investigation.
There is more.

Watt has been a generous contributor to Democrat candidates in Texas.

Explaining the facts as set forth by the prosecution, in this case, may be his biggest challenge as a trial lawyer.


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