Nearly two dozen counts filed against a lawyer and six other defendants accused of defrauding the Deepwater Horizon spill fund have been dropped.
According to court documents seen by the AP, 22 counts of identity document fraud brought against Texas attorney Mikal Watts and six other co-defendants were dropped.
The seven defendants are now facing 73 counts related to a scheme that filed $2 billion in claims related to the 2010 spill.
According to a statement released by the Department of Justice last October, the defendants were indicted by a federal grand jury on 95 counts of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, identity theft, and aggravated identity theft.
The other co-defendants included two non-attorney staff members at Watts’s law firm as well as four contract field workers, the AP said.
The defendants are accused of stealing the identity of numerous victims from Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, and elsewhere and of defrauding the Gulf Coast Claims Facility and BP.
The defendants allegedly stole personal information from the victims and used the information to create clients for anticipated litigation tied to the Deepwater Horizon spill.
The indictment further alleges that the defendants fraudulently submitted the names of over 40,000 individuals as plaintiffs represented by Watts, knowing that the individuals had not consented to be represented by his firm.
According to the indictment, the defendants also attempted to obtain payments from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility for persons Watts claimed to represent.
The defendants allegedly submitted claims worth in excess of $2 billion to BP.
Watts also allegedly used the inflated plaintiff numbers to help him win a seat on the Deepwater Horizon plaintiff steering committee.
Watts resigned from the steering committee when the allegations first became public in 2013.
Mikal’s brother David Watts was also named in the indictment.
The other defendants are Wynter Lee, 37, Gregory P. Warren , 51, Hector Eloy Guerra, 48, Thi Houng Le a/k/a Kristy Le, 48, and Thi Hoaug Nguyen a/k/a Abbie Nguyen, 30.
BP filed suit against Watts in December 2013, alleging that only 42 percent of the Social Security numbers used in the claims he filed could be confirmed.
Another 13 percent of the numbers were either incomplete or fake while 5 percent of the numbers belonged to deceased persons other than the claimants, BP’s suit claimed.
Watts has denied any wrongdoing.
BP’s lawsuit is on hold until the criminal case is completed, the AP said.
Prosecutors are expected to begin questioning potential jurors on Tuesday.