Attorneys accused of fraud in the dispersal of BP PLC’s $9.6 billion Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement have attacked a special master’s investigative report as completely untrue and have asked a federal judge to vacate his order adopting the findings.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier appointed former FBI director Louis Freeh to investigate the settlement’s claims process. On Sept. 6, Freeh reported that two former senior attorneys for claims administrator Patrick Juneau had accepted fees for a client they’d referred to a New Orleans law firm.
Freeh recommended sanctions against those attorneys and two lawyers associated with the law firm, and referred the four to federal criminal authorities. Barbier has given the attorneys and their law firms until Jan. 17 to show why they should not be barred from filing oil spill claims.
Freeh concluded that Christina Reitano, whom Juneau fired, and her husband, Lionel “Tiger” Sutton, whose resignation from Juneau’s office prompted the special master’s investigation, had accepted fees for an oil spill client they’d referred to The Andry Law Firm in New Orleans. The report found that Jonathan Andry, part owner of The Andry Law Firm, paid the fees through a Las Vegas law firm run by Glen Lerner, his partner in a third firm, AndryLerner in New Orleans.
In a Dec. 16 filing, Lerner objected to the report’s finding that he used the corporate bank account of a company called Crown LLC to siphon Andry’s $40,600 in payments to Sutton and Reitano. Although he and Sutton both owned interests in Crown, Lerner insisted that the referral for shrimper Casey Thonn was proper.
Lerner’s attorney, William Taylor, founding partner of Washington’s Zuckerman Spaeder, noted that Sutton and AndryLerner’s chief financial officer—not Lerner—had arranged to have the payments deposited into the Crown account. More importantly, he added, no harm was done: Sutton did not inflate the amount of, or expedite, Thonn’s claim, or any other of the 675 claims made by AndryLerner’s clients.
“This is a little bit like I had breakfast with a ghost and here’s the plate to prove it,” Taylor said. “There’s no evidence that Sutton did do anything. He didn’t move the claims forward. Not even Freeh says there’s evidence that he had interfered or participated in increasing the value of the claim.”
Sutton made similar arguments in a Dec. 18 filing. His attorney, Michael Walsh of Taylor, Porter, Brooks & Phillips in Baton Rouge, La., said Sutton clearly disclosed his interest in Crown: The company was located in his law office, which is in the same building as the claims center.
Reitano, in a Dec. 16 filing, said she never expected to receive a fee for referring Thonn. And AndryLerner, in a Dec. 16 filing, joined with the others in accusing Freeh of conducting his investigation in secret—in violation of their due process rights, since they had no opportunity to question witnesses or appear in court in their own defense.
Neither The Andry Law Firm nor Jonathan Andry have filed a response to Freeh’s report. But Jonathan Andry’s attorney, Lewis Unglesby of Unglesby Law Firm in Baton Rouge, said his client had no knowledge that Sutton received any of the Thonn payments.
“The evidence is that Andry does not agree to that,” he said. “Andry never sends any money to Sutton, and Andry doesn’t know that Sutton’s getting these payments.”
Meanwhile, the attorneys and firms have fought to gain increased access to the report’s materials. Lerner and The Andry Law Firm on Friday challenged U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan’s final discovery order, requesting a full investigative record and access to Juneau’s employees.
A representative of The Andry Law Firm sent an emailed statement: “The Andry Law Firm has yet to file its formal response to the Freeh Report because it still has yet to receive all of the information upon which the dubious conclusions of the Freeh Report are supposedly based. … After four months of multiple court filings and orders, Freeh is still withholding information. The Andry Law Firm, the Court and the public have a right to all the information and to question witnesses.”
Contact Amanda Bronstad at firstname.lastname@example.org.