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San Antonio attorney accused of BP fraud wants to salvage reputation stat

Sun Herald, November 16, 2015

By: Anita Lee

GULFPORT — San Antonio attorney Mikal Watts wants his day in court sooner rather than later in a massive BP fraud case, but at least two more of the seven defendants is asking for a delay, saying they need more time to prepare for trial.

The seven defendants are scheduled to be tried together in December in U.S. District Court in Gulfport on 95 charges each of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, identify theft and aggravated identity theft. The Secret Service and U.S. Justice Department investigated the case for four years.

Federal investigators contend Watts and six others filed thousands of false claims for damages from the April 2010 BP oil well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The indictment says the San Antonio law firm of Watts, Guerra and Craft submitted at least 41 claims using the names and identifies of individuals without their knowledge. These individuals were not seafood-industry workers, as the claims alleged, the indictment says.

The indictment charges two others who worked as non-attorneys in the law firm, Watts’ brother David Watts and mass-damages manager Wynter Lee.

It also charges three people who worked out of a BP claims office in Biloxi: Gregory Warren of Lafayette, La.; Thi Houng “Kristy” Le, of Grand Bay, Ala., and Le’s sister-in-law, Thi Hoang “Abby” Nguyen, also of Grand Bay. Hector Eloy Guerra of Weslaco, Texas, also is charged for allegedly gathering bogus claims for the law firm.

Both Le and Nguyen have court-appointed attorneys because they said they could not afford legal representation. Nguyen’s attorney is asking that the trial be continued until the Feb. 1 court term because she has not had time to review the evidence against her. An attorney for Wynter Lee also has filed a motion requesting a delay and waiving her right to a speedy trial.

Watts is ready to defend himself in December, according to his court filing. The motion says the investigation became public knowledge when Watts’ law office was searched 33 months ago.

“The spectre of this investigation has been hanging over Mr. Watts since it was publicly revealed nearly three years ago,” says the motion filed by his attorney, Robert McDuff of Jackson. “He wishes to go to trial very soon so that he can present his defense and refute these allegations.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office does not object to a delay until February, says the motion filed by Nguyen’s attorney, Ramiro Orozco of Gulfport.

Watts’ motion says he is not waiving his right to a speedy trial, but if the trial is delayed, he asks that Judge Louis Guirola set it for the court term that begins Feb. 1.

Watts, a major donor to Democratic candidates, has earned millions for injured clients in mass-damages cases.

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