San Antonio Express-News
Dem stalwart Mikal Watts indicted
By Guillermo Contreras, Staff Writer
A federal grand jury in Mississippi has indicted nationally recognized plaintiff’s lawyer and Democratic stalwart Mikal Watts of San Antonio, his brother and contract employees on charges of making false claims and identity theft in relation to the litigation involving BP over the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The charges stem from allegations that Watts fraudulently bolstered the number of clients he had with claims against BP to get a seat on the steering committee, an elite group of lawyers appointed to manage their side of the litigation.
Lawyers on such committees typically reap a financial bonanza for their efforts. Watts helped negotiate a $2.3 billion settlement against BP, a chunk of that for fishermen and deckhands that he purported to represent.
At one point, Watts claimed to represent more than 44,000 clients.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Misssissippi would not confirm the indictment Wednesday. Other sources confirmed to the Express-News that it came down last week, but it is still under seal because the defendants have yet to appear in court. In many federal courts, indictments are unsealed once a defendant makes an initial appearance. The Watts brothers are expected for initial appearances in Mississippi as soon as next week, the Express-News confirmed.
“After years of waiting, I will now have my day in court,” Mikal Watts said in a statement provided Wednesday by his lawyer, Rob McDuff of Mississippi. “I look forward to a speedy trial and the opportunity to prove to a jury that I am not guilty of any crimes. I have spent my professional life working hard to protect the rights of those victimized by corporations like BP. When this trial is over, I look forward to getting back on the job, and to working for years to come.”
Attorney Mike McCrum of San Antonio, who is representing David Watts, said in federal court here that, “we’re going to fight this vigorously.
“We absolutely believe this indictment should never have been brought against Michael, his family, his brother or anyone else in his firm.”
The Express-News first reported in February 2013 that the Secret Service, which besides protecting the president, also investigates allegations of identity theft and fraud, had been investigating the Watts firm after they raided his San Antonio law offices.
Mikal Watts resigned from the steering committee after the criminal investigation became public, saying he did not want the matter to be a distraction.
Watts was also sued by BP, which filed suit in New Orleans over allegations that more than half the Social Security numbers on his client list in the oil spill matter were fake. The company described his listed clients as “phantoms.”
Additionally, Mikal Watts was sued in Bexar County by a Houston law firm on behalf of three Texas residents and two from Louisiana. That lawsuit alleges that Watts and his San Antonio firm misappropriated the names and identities of the plaintiffs. It also suggests there are many others.
“On information and belief, the scope of the misappropriation exceeds 44,000 individuals and/or entities,” the lawsuit said. “Defendants undertook the misappropriation in the context of handling Deepwater Horizon oil spill claims. But they actually did not ever represent the (plaintiffs) in this case. To the contrary, defendants simply claimed to represent plaintiffs even though they were never retained by plaintiffs.”
Besides noteworthy wins as a plaintiffs’ lawyer, Mikal Watts is also known as a Democratic kingmaker, having contributed and raised thousands for candidates for the bench, mayor, City Council, the Legislature, governor, Congress and the White House.
In July 2012, he hosted a fundraiser for Democrats at the Convention Center that drew more than 1,200 people who paid $250 each for a chance to see President Barack Obama.
That gala occurred before Watts and 75 guests gathered at Watts’ home in the Dominion for a private, $35,800-a-plate fundraiser held in his then-home’s gymnasium.