NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A former BP engineer charged with deleting text messages about the company's response to its 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico urged a federal judge Tuesday to sanction Justice Department prosecutors for allegedly withholding evidence in the case, a claim the prosecutors deny.
U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. didn't immediately rule on whether sanctions are warranted after one of Kurt Mix's lawyers asked him to order prosecutors to turn over any evidence that could be favorable to his defense.
Mix's attorney, Joan McPhee, claims prosecutors failed to turn over sworn statements by BP executives and a Coast Guard record that rebut allegations Mix tried to mislead the government about the rate that oil was flowing from BP's blown-out well.
McPhee accused prosecutors of engaging in "clearly flagrant prosecutorial misconduct" and of making unfounded allegations about her client, who pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice charges and is scheduled to be tried next month.
"This is no isolated instance," she said. "The conduct in this case was knowing and intentional."
Justice Department Derek Cohen denied withholding evidence.
"At best, we have an honest disagreement over the scope," he said.
Cohen offered to provide Mix's attorneys with unfettered access to a database containing roughly 37 million documents related to the investigation. In the meantime, Cohen said prosecutors will provide them with a list of civil depositions and FBI interview reports that they can review if they believe the material could be relevant to the case.
"We are prepared to turn everything over because I frankly don't ever want to appear before the court again having my integrity questioned," Cohen said.
Cohen claimed Mix worked on models that showed oil was flowing at a far greater rate than what BP was publicly estimating. Mix didn't share his estimates with the federal government before the company tried to stop the gusher with a method called "Top Kill" that was doomed to fail based on the high flow rate, Cohen added.
Mix's attorneys, however, say prosecutors withheld documents that undermine accusations that Mix and others at BP tried to conceal flow rate and Top Kill information from government officials.
"Kurt Mix's flow rate modeling was provided to the federal government within days of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and the Top Kill data that the prosecutors have characterized as secretive were in fact made available to the federal government in real time, all in clear view of Mix," defense attorneys wrote in an April 29 court filing.
The April 2010 blowout of BP's Macondo well triggered an explosion that killed 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and spawned the nation's worst offshore oil spill.
Mix, a resident of Katy, Texas, pleaded not guilty last year to two counts of obstruction of justice. The original indictment charged him with deliberately deleting more than 200 text messages to and from a supervisor and more than 100 to and from a BP contractor. Neither the supervisor nor the contractor is named.
"There's no dispute he deleted evidence. There's no question he deleted evidence he was supposed to keep," Cohen said.
The question for jurors, however, is whether Mix had a "corrupt intent" in deleting the texts. Prosecutors claim he deleted the messages to prevent them from being used in a grand jury's probe of the spill.
A new indictment, handed up in March, added allegations that Mix also deleted about 40 voicemails from the supervisor and roughly 15 voicemails from the contractor.
Mix's jury trial is scheduled to start June 10.