First Arrest Made in BP Oil Spill Case


NEW ORLEANS — By arresting a former BP engineer Tuesday, federal prosecutors for the first time showed their hand in the Gulf oil spill case, saying they were probing whether BP PLC and its employees broke the law by intentionally lowballing how much oil was spewing from its out-of-control well.

Two years and four days after the drilling-rig explosion that set off the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, Kurt Mix, 50, of Katy, Texas, was arrested Tuesday and charged with two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly deleting about 300 text messages that indicated the blown-out well was spewing far more crude than the company was telling the public at the time.

The charges are not likely to affect a proposed class-action settlement that would resolve more than 100,000 claims by people and businesses who blame economic losses over the spill. A federal judge is expected Wednesday to consider granting preliminary approval of the $7.8 billion civil settlement between BP and a committee of plaintiffs.

The case against Mix brings the first criminal charges in the Justice Department's Deepwater Horizon probe. If convicted, Mix could get up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count. Mix was released on $100,000 bail.

In an affidavit, the U.S. Department of Justice said it was investigating whether BP and its employees broke the law "by intentionally understating" how much oil was leaking.

Legal experts said this was likely just the first move by the Justice Department. The federal agency made it clear the investigation still is ongoing and suggested more people could be arrested.

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