By Michael Kunzelman
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A former Halliburton manager pleaded guilty Tuesday to destroying evidence in the aftermath of the deadly rig explosion that spawned BP’s massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Anthony Badalamenti, 62, of Katy, Texas, faces a maximum sentence of 1 year in prison and a $100,000 fine after his guilty plea in U.S. District Court to one misdemeanor count of destruction of evidence. His sentencing by U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey is set for Jan. 21.
Badalamenti was the cementing technology director for Halliburton Energy Services Inc., BP’s cement contractor on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Prosecutors said he instructed two Halliburton employees to delete data during a post-spill review of the cement job on BP’s blown-out Macondo well.
Last month, a federal judge accepted a separate plea agreement calling for Halliburton to pay a $200,000 fine for a misdemeanor stemming from Badalamenti’s conduct. Halliburton also agreed to be on probation for three years and to make a $55 million contribution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, but that payment was not a condition of the deal.
The April 20, 2010, rig explosion killed 11 workers and led to the nation’s worst offshore oil spill.
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In May 2010, according to prosecutors, Badalamenti directed a senior program manager to run computer simulations on centralizers, which are used to keep the casing centered in the wellbore. The results indicated there was little difference between using six or 21 centralizers.
The data could have supported BP’s decision to use the lower number, but Justice Department prosecutor William Pericak said the number of centralizers had “little effect” on the outcome of the simulations.
Badalamenti instructed the program manager to delete the results. The program manager “felt uncomfortable” about the instruction but complied, according to prosecutors.
A different Halliburton employee also deleted data from a separate round of simulations at the direction of Badalamenti, prosecutors said.
“Again, the results showed no appreciable difference,” Pericak said.
Halliburton notified investigators from a Justice Department task force about the deletion of data. Efforts to recover the data weren’t successful.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Zainey pressed the attorneys to explain how Badalamenti’s actions amounted to a crime.
“Where’s the criminal intent?” he asked.
Tai Park, one of Badalamenti’s attorneys, said the misdemeanor charge to which his client pleaded guilty doesn’t require “criminal intent, in the sense of willfulness.”
“He was not authorized to give such a direction to his supervisees,” Park said.
Pericak said Badalamenti intentionally ordered the deletion of the data even though another Halliburton executive instructed him to preserve all material related to BP’s blown-out well.
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Sentencing guidelines calculated by prosecutors call for Badalamenti to receive a sentence ranging from probation to six months in prison, according to Park. Zainey, however, isn’t bound by the guidelines when he imposes a sentence.
Badalamenti wasn’t the first individual charged with a crime stemming from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but he is the first to plead guilty.
BP well site leaders Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine await a trial next year on manslaughter charges stemming from the rig workers’ deaths. They botched a key safety test and disregarded abnormally high pressure readings that were glaring signs of trouble before the well blowout, prosecutors say.
Former BP executive David Rainey is charged with concealing information from Congress about the amount of oil that was spewing from the blown-out well in 2010. Former BP engineer Kurt Mix is charged with deleting text messages and voicemails about the company’s response to the spill.
Two floors down from the courtroom where Badalamenti pleaded guilty, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is presiding over a trial for spill-related civil litigation. For the trial’s second phase, Barbier is hearing dueling estimates from experts for BP and the federal government about the amount of oil that spewed into the Gulf.