Kurt Mix, a 50-year-old former engineer for BP plc, was arrested Tuesday after being charged with two counts of obstructing justice after federal authorities said he intentionally destroyed evidence related to the Macondo well blowout and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico two years ago.
The criminal complaint, which was unsealed on Tuesday, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The initial charges are for “allegedly deleting records relating to the amount of oil flowing from the Macondo well after the explosion,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. If convicted, Mix faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count.
According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint and arrest warrant, Mix was a drilling and completions project engineer for BP. Following the blowout, Mix worked on internal BP efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well and was involved in various efforts to stop the leak. The Department of Justice (DOJ) said those efforts included, among others, a top kill, the failed BP effort to pump heavy mud into the blown out wellhead to try to stop the oil flow.
“BP sent numerous notices to Mix requiring him to retain all information concerning Macondo, including his text messages,” the affidavit said.
In early October 2010 after learning that his electronic files were to be collected by a vendor working for BP’s lawyers, Mix allegedly deleted a text string on his iPhone that contained more than 200 text messages with a BP supervisor. Again in mid August 2010 he allegedly deleted a text string “containing more than 100 text messages with a BP contractor with whom Mix had worked on various issues concerning how much oil was flowing from the Macondo well after the blowout.” By that time “he had received numerous legal hold notices requiring him to preserve such data and had been communicating with a criminal defense lawyer in connection with the pending grand jury investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar said Tuesday the federal government has been committed “from day one to make sure that we are holding BP and others accountable for what happened in the Gulf of Mexico.” DOJ is handling the criminal enforcement of companies and people that may be culpable for wrongdoing related to the well blowout, while Interior and DOJ jointly are handling civil enforcement issues. Another joint investigation by Interior and the Department of Homeland Security also has uncovered several laws and regulations that may have been broken, he added.
BP had no comment on Mix’s arrest but said it is cooperating with the DOJ and “had clear policies requiring preservation of evidence in this case and has undertaken substantial and ongoing efforts to preserve evidence.”
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