Following the BP oil spill in 2010 and the company’s $9.2 billion settlement, three commercial fishermen were apparently paid $580,000. But, according to a special master who is in charge of pin-pointing fraudulent claims against BP, the fishermen submitted false tax returns and should therefore return the money.
The special master appointed by the judge is former FBI Director Louis Freeh. Already, Freeh has requested the return of more than $1 million to BP from four other claimants. And BP will not get its day before the U.S. Supreme Court, as the high court denied the company’s appeal to its own settlement.
Freeh, who began investigating potential fraud in the claims process last year, so far has sought reimbursement of money paid to commercial fishermen who were represented by New Orleans-based AndryLerner; Ungar & Byrne of Metairie, La.; and Cunningham Bounds in Mobile.
Though BP has not made a statement on the latest round of alleged fraudulent claims, they’ve spoken up in the past.
But in earlier statements on its website,www.thestateofthegulf.com<http://www.thestateofthegulf.com> , BP said that Freeh’s motions send “a clear message that attempts to take advantage of the settlement process are being investigated, and that those caught red-handed should expect to answer for their fraud.”
The three fisherman who have allegedly ripped off BP include part-time shrimp boat Captain Wardell Parker, oyster boat Captain Bobby Lambert Sr. and shrimp boat Captain Jimmy Shoemaker.
According to Freeh, Parker “received $238,684 based on 2009 tax records that showed false revenue losses.” Freeh asserts that all of the income on the tax return was not from shrimp-boating, but from a mechanical job.
“The alleged sales data provided by Parker was internally inconsistent and contradictory,” he wrote.
Freeh said the payments included $59,671 in contingency fees paid to Parker’s attorneys at Danziger & De Llano.
For Lambert, Freeh said the oyster boat captain was paid $172,596 for the loss of sales during the BP oil spill. Lambert apparently filed tax returns between 2007-2009 that lined-up with his claims.
However, Freeh said the 2007 and 2009 tax returns were never actually field with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and that 2008 tax return had been altered from its original state.
“While he submitted documentation to show that he earned some oyster income, those records do not show that he earned anywhere near the oyster revenue he claimed,” Freeh wrote.
Shoemaker, the third fisherman being accused of fraudulent tax returns by Freeh, received $168,692 in claims following the oil spill. But again, Freeh says Shoemaker’s 2008 and 2009 tax returns were altered and never submitted to the IRS.
Additionally, BP has asked that it be able to obtain work papers and interim reports which were part of an independent audit of the settlement’s claims. According to the audit, 99.5 percent of the claims had been “correctly calculated.”
BP spokesman Geoff Morrell, though, said the audit numbers were “misleading.”
“The McGladrey report identified serious operational problems within the settlement program, including documentation deficiencies in more than 20 percent of business economic loss claims and documentation errors across all categories of claims totaling more than half a billion dollars in excess awards,” he wrote. “The report also reveals that McGladrey failed to complete the full agreed-upon scope of the audit, including an analysis of the risk of fraud, one of the audit’s main objectives.”