A former BP Plc engineer pleaded not guilty to charges he intentionally destroyed evidence requested by the U.S. about the size of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The U.S. said Kurt Mix, who worked on internal BP efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well, deleted text messages between him and a supervisor. Mix was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice, in the first criminal case arising from the incident.
“I plead not guilty,” Mix said at his arraignment today in federal court in New Orleans.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles accepted the plea. He restricted Mix’s travel to Texas, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New York after lawyers for the U.S. said the defendant may flee if released.
The Justice Department, which began investigating the incident in June 2010, said last week it was continuing the probe. The charges against Mix are likely to be followed by others, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday in a press conference.
“We expect there will be others,” Holder told reporters in Washington. “I wouldn’t want to put a time frame on when charges will be brought.”
A federal grand jury had been investigating the spill estimates, Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Barbara O’Donnell said in a sworn statement filed in the Mix case last week.
“Mix deleted numerous electronic records relating to the Deepwater Horizon disaster response, including records concerning the amount of oil potentially flowing from the well, after being repeatedly informed of his obligation to maintain such records,” O’Donnell said in a sworn statement that was filed April 23.
Mix deleted the e-mails in October 2010 despite receiving multiple notices from London-based BP in the weeks after the spill, “which stated on the cover, in bold and underlined type, that instant messages and text messages needed to be preserved,” the U.S. said in its indictment of Mix issued yesterday.
‘Hundreds’ of Messages
The text streams involved “hundreds” of messages, Derek Cohen, a Justice Department attorney, told Knowles at the arraignment. “Obviously, it’s in dispute over his intent.”
Mix brought the deletions to the attention of the government, Joan McPhee, his attorney, told the judge.
“Mr. Mix saved thousands of e-mails and hundreds of text messages,” McPhee said. The information saved includes flow rate data, work on the efforts to contain the spill, and his personal log notes, she said.
The case is U.S. v. Mix, 12-cr-0017, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).