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Sep 11, 2013

Opinion Posted By: Tom Young, The Legal Examiner

Perhaps you have seen the incessant advertisements in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and elsewhere in which British Petroleum, a convicted corporate felon, paints itself a victim of judicial fleecing at the hands of a court appointed claims administrator overseeing the historic Deepwater Horizon Settlement Claims Program. Recall that BP was convicted not only of manslaughter in the deaths of 11 rig workers, but also of obstruction of Congress stemming from false information it gave about the rate that oil was leaking from the well. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

The settlement program, a massive operation overseen by a Federal judge and his appointed administrator Patrick Juneau, employs thousands of people and is charged with dispensing billions of dollars in a fair, transparent and objective manner. In June it came to light that two program employees may have conflicts of interest which were not disclosed to the claims administrator nor the court. In response to these allegations, Judge Carl Barbier appointed former head of the FBI, Louis Freeh, as Special Master to investigate the situation. Mr. Freeh spent over two months reviewing in great detail the relationships of claims administration staff and protocols employed by the program to ensure it was abiding by its mandate.

Last week Mr. Freeh released his report in which he found that two program employees may have improperly placed claims associated with personal friends in the front of the line for processing. While this sort of cronyism is certainly improper, it is not indicative of a larger, systemic problem with the payment system. Is it frustrating to claimants without friends in high places that it may take 12 months to be compensated? Yes. But a program wrought with fraud? No. In fact, Mr. Freeh found no evidence that any of the claims associated with the two employees were substantively manipulated in any way. The compensation amounts were not tampered with. The books were not cooked. No undeserving party received improper payment. Faster payment than most, sure, but not ill gotten.

The employees have been fired or resigned. The problem solved according to the judge:

“The Court notes that the Special Master [Mr. Freeh] has not found any evidence that the Claims Administrator, Patrick Juneau, engaged in any conflict of interest, or unethical or improper conduct. The Special Master also did not find any evidence that Claims Administrator Office officials or employees manipulated the valuation of claims.”

You would think by reading BP’s advertisements that cash is raining from the sky in the South due to widespread fraud and self dealing. The real motive behind BP’s disingenuous public relations campaign is to scare legitimate claimants away. The company wants to taint the process so that business people who are deserving of payment under the program are hoodwinked into thinking that their participation in such a fraudulent “scheme” would be improper, maybe even – gasp – criminal!

Don’t be fooled by this corporate felon’s manipulation. The judge overseeing the settlement administration, after reading Mr. Freeh’s report, found no reason to halt the program:

“While the conduct of certain Claims Administrator Office employees and vendors described in the Report is problematic, the Special Master finds that should not prevent the program from continuing to fairly and efficiently process and pay legitimate claims in a timely manner.”

Where is the boogeyman BP?

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