Prosecutors: ex-BP engineer’s bail conditions should stand

A former BP engineer charged with destroying evidence sought for a U.S probe of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill shouldn’t be released from the travel restrictions imposed on him, the U.S. said.

Kurt Mix, charged with two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly deleting text message strings from his mobile phone after being told by BP not to remove any information, was prohibited from traveling outside Texas, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New York without a judge’s permission.

Mix, who has pleaded not guilty, asked last week for the restrictions to be eased. Mix’s “bail conditions should remain unchanged,” U.S. Justice Department lawyers said in court papers filed today in federal court in New Orleans

“The case against defendant is strong and he has a significant incentive to flee given that he faces incarceration upon conviction,” the prosecutors said. “This court properly found that defendant posed a risk of flight.”

Mix, who worked on internal BP efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well, was arrested last month in the first criminal case arising from the spill. The Justice Department, which began investigating the incident in June 2010, said in April it was continuing to consider whether to file more criminal charges over the spill. The charges against Mix are likely to be followed by others, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last month.

Electronic Records

Joan McPhee, Mix’s attorney, didn’t immediately return a call for comment.

A hearing on Mix’s request to amend travel restrictions is scheduled for May 29 in New Orleans.

A U.S. grand jury had been investigating the spill estimates, Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Barbara O’Donnell said in a sworn statement filed April 23 in the Mix case.

“Mix deleted numerous electronic records relating to the Deepwater Horizon disaster response, including records concerning the amount of oil potentially flowing from the well, after being repeatedly informed of his obligation to maintain such records,” O’Donnell said in the statement.

Multiple Notices

Mix deleted the e-mails in October 2010 despite receiving multiple notices from London-based BP in the weeks after the spill, “which stated on the cover, in bold and underlined type, that instant messages and text messages needed to be preserved,” the U.S. said in its indictment issued May 2.

Mix brought the deletions to the attention of the government, his attorney told U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles at her client’s arraignment May 3.

“Mr. Mix saved thousands of e-mails and hundreds of text messages,” McPhee said. The information saved includes flow rate data, work on the efforts to contain the spill, and his personal log notes, she said.

Mix’s lawyers said in a filing last week that an unnamed “third party” has evidence that could clear him. The lawyers asked the court to allow them to hand over this evidence to prosecutors without jeopardizing the rights of the third party, which holds a legal privilege over that information.

Key Evidence

The evidence is key to Mix’s defense “and capable of fully exonerating him,” the engineer’s lawyers said in the filing. Mix’s lawyers contend that because the third party hasn’t waived attorney

client privilege over the evidence, they haven’t been able to make it available to prosecutors.

“The government was unaware of this exculpatory information when it chose to indict defendant Mix and it remains unaware of it today,” according to the filing.

Prosecutors in court papers today rejected Mix’s assertion that this is exculpatory evidence that will prove his innocence.

“Defendant’s claim that he has some privileged evidence unknown to the government that will completely exonerate him (apparently a prior conversation with BP counsel) also appears to be hyperbole,” Justice Department lawyers said in the filing. “Whatever defendant shared with BP counsel, it cannot possibly be dispositive of whether he intentionally deleted the texts in this case.”

Scott Dean, a BP spokesman, declined to comment on the government’s filing.

Property Damage

The blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and started millions of barrels of crude leaking into the Gulf. The accident prompted hundreds of lawsuits against BP; Transocean Ltd., the Vernier, Switzerland- based owner and operator of the rig; and Halliburton Co., which provided cementing services.

BP agreed in March to pay an estimated $7.8 billion to resolve most private plaintiffs’ claims for economic loss, property damage and spill and cleanup-related injuries. The settlement didn’t resolve pollution-law claims brought against BP by the U.S. or the states of Louisiana and Alabama.

The case is U.S. v. Mix, 12-cr-0017, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).