New indictments issued in Gulf oil spill case

A federal grand jury issued a new indictment Wednesday against  a former BP executive that charges him anew with obstruction of Congress in connection with the investigation of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The move by prosecutors came after a federal judge last month threw out an obstruction charge against David Rainey of Houston.

Separately on Wednesday, a grand jury issued a new indictment against a former BP engineer, removing references to all but three of the hundreds of voice mails that the U.S. government had alleged were deleted from his cell phone to obstruct the investigation of the oil spill.

The new indictment against Rainey appears to be an effort by prosecutors to correct deficiencies that U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt had said gave him no choice but to dismiss the earlier obstruction charge. Whether the reworded indictment passes muster this time is unclear. Apparently aware there may be a problem, the government also Wednesday filed a motion asking Engelhardt to reconsider his earlier ruling. Rainey’s lawyer, Brian Heberlig, did not return a call seeking comment.

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In dismissing the earlier obstruction of Congress charge, the judge sided with the defense arguments that the government failed to allege knowledge of a pending congressional investigation and that the law Rainey was charged under does not apply to congressional subcommittee investigations.

In the new indictment, prosecutors make allegations that Rainey knew of the pending criminal probe, and in the specific count alleging obstruction of Congress they refer to him obstructing a House committee investigation rather than a subcommittee investigation.

Rainey, who also faces a charge of making false statements to investigators, has pleaded not guilty to the earlier accusations. He is scheduled for trial Oct. 15. Rainey, who is now president of exploration for BHP Billiton, will be arraigned Thursday on the new indictment.

The superseding indictment of Kurt Mix of Katy follows a federal judge’s ruling in New Orleans earlier this month that barred prosecutors from making reference at trial to the bulk of the unrecovered voice mail messages.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. said that several dozen of the messages may have been deleted by AT&T, and not Mix. So regardless of their source, their deletion couldn’t have resulted from corrupt intent by Mix, the judge said.

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As to most of the remaining unrecovered voice mails, the judge said prosecutors could not mention them  because there is no evidence they came from BP employees or contractors involved in the oil spill case.

Duval said unrecovered voicemails left by “individuals not employed by BP or involved in the Macondo well response are not relevant to any issue in this matter.”

Duval said three unrecovered voice mails from a contractor or a supervisor could be admitted because those callers were significantly involved in the Macondo well response.  A fourth unrecovered message that was left by someone who was routed through BP’s general switchboard also may be admitted because it can be inferred it came from a BP employee, the judge ruled.

The ruling did not apply to two voice mail messages that prosecutors were able to recover through forensic analysis.

However, the new indictment only made mention of three voice mails, one from a contractor, one from a supervisor and the message from a caller routed through BP’s switchboard.

In the superseding indictment, the second one issued in the case against Mix, prosecutors did not mention that nearly 350 voice mails were deleted from Mix’s iPhone. That number was included in the earlier indictment.

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Mix, who has pleaded not guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice and is scheduled for trial Dec. 2, is set to be arraigned Tuesday on the new indictment against him.

Two BP well-site leaders face manslaughter charges in the Gulf oil spill case. BP pleaded guilty to manslaughter, obstruction and other charges and agreed to pay $4.5 billion in criminal fines and Securities and Exchange Commission fines.

The British oil giant owned the undersea well that blew out in the Gulf off Louisiana, triggering an explosion on the Transocean-owned Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 men. The resulting oil spill was the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.

Read ongoing FuelFix coverage of the fallout from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill: