By Mike Scarcella
As the U.S. Justice Department continues to investigate the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, federal prosecutors today filed the first criminal charges flowing from the deadly explosion and leak that became the worst environmental disaster in the country's history.
The government charged Kurt Mix, a former engineer for BP plc, with obstruction of justice for allegedly intentionally destroying evidence that the authorities wanted to review. Mix, 50, a Texas resident, was charged in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said in a statement that Mix alleged deleted records concerning the amount of oil flowing from the Macondo well after the explosion in April 2010. Eleven people were killed in the incident.
"The Deepwater Horizon Task Force is continuing its investigation into the explosion and will hold accountable those who violated the law in connection with the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history," Holder said in the statement.
Prosecutors said in charging documents that Mix was tasked with estimating the amount of oil leaking from the well after the explosion and blowout. Mix, the government said, was involved in efforts to stop the well from gushing oil. DOJ said BP officials "sent numerous notices to Mix requiring him to retain all information concerning Macondo, including his text messages."
Mix, prosecutors allege, in October 2010 deleted a text message string of 200 notes on his iPhone between him and a BP supervisor. DOJ officials said some of the messages have since been recovered. The information included real-time BP data about the effort to plug the well.
The text messages indicate, according to DOJ, that BP's public estimate of the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico was three times less than what Mix knew.
Prosecutors said that by the time Mix deleted the text messages, he had received "legal hold" notices requiring him to save data. Mix faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count.