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Gulf Coast law firms Levin Papantonio, Eastland Law and others have begun filing a series of civil RICO actions in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama to hold BP accountable for the false assurances it gave the American people that it could handle a worst-case scenario deepwater oil spill. The suits allege that BP committed mail fraud, wire fraud and potentially other RICO predicate act violations when the company sought permits from the federal government for deepwater offshore drilling, knowing that it did not possess the technical expertise or equipment necessary to respond to an emergency such as the ongoing Deepwater disaster.

This is the only RICO claim out of the more than 200 lawsuits filed so far against BP - and that doesn't even count claims against Transocean, Halliburton and other associated defendants. All the other legal cases filed so far against BP are based on negligence associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, violations of various environmental statutes, and other legal angles.

By choosing the RICO approach, the Gulf Coast attorneys hope to provide an avenue for all Americans impacted by the disaster to stand up to the oil companies and prosecute them in civil court for their unlawful conduct.

The RICO suits allege that BP and its CEO Tony Hayward engaged in a pattern of fraudulent misrepresentations when the company asserted in its regional oil spill and exploration oil spill emergency response plans that it had the equipment and technology to respond to a deepwater accident. BP claimed in some of the plans that it had the capacity and expertise to respond to a spill of as much as 250,000 barrels per day.

"BP was more interested in making billions of dollars from offshore drilling and cutting corners on oil spill response safeguards at the expense of protecting the Gulf ecosystem, the public and our plaintiffs in the Gulf region from environmental and economic disaster," according to Hiram Eastland, principal attorney with Eastland Law Firm in Greenwood, Mississippi.

Eastland told me today:

   "As we have heard from Congressional testimony in front of Senator Boxer's and Representative Markey's committees over the past few weeks, there is in fact a lot of evidence already presented about BP's illegal conduct. This is exactly the type of conduct that RICO provides a measure of accountability and justice for, and we intend to see to it that such a pattern of unlawful conduct is dealt with under the full due process of the law."

The Justice Department launched civil and criminal investigations into BP's false statements about their oil spill response plans on June 1st. But the lawsuits brought by Levin Papantonio and the other law firms are civil claims based on the RICO statute, which enables a private individual harmed by the actions of a criminal enterprise to file a civil suit and, if successful, collect treble damages from the defendant.

Enacted into law in 1970, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) was initially used by the government to prosecute Mafia kingpins. But it is an appropriate legal maneuver in the BP case as well, as Eastland explained to me:

   "The civil RICO action that we recently filed in Florida, and the RICO actions we plan to file in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, are solidly based on unlawful conduct that is already apparent from testimony and other documents that have already played out on the national stage in the last several weeks."

   "BP's pattern of making false submissions to the government to get the permits that allowed it to make billions from offshore drilling constitutes a pattern of mail fraud, wire fraud and other unlawful RICO predicate act conduct that is tailor made for this RICO class action."

The coalition of law firms bringing the suits anticipates uncovering further evidence of BP's shenanigans through the discovery process, and will likely add additional claims - and defendants - as a result.

According to Eastland:

   "These claims are just the tip of the iceberg, and we fully anticipate adding additional claims and defendants as this civil litigation progresses. The public deserves to know the whole truth."

   "It's not just the people of the South, but people from all over the country who have come to love the Gulf of Mexico and our Gulf shores just as much as we do. They love our pristine seashores, our pelicans and sea gulls and sandpipers, our dolphins and our seafood and the whole way of life we enjoy on the Gulf Coast. And they passionately believe as we do that it's past time to get action, if not get medieval on BP's unlawful conduct and what they have done to our shared waters and our Coast."

Ongoing investigations, as well as the discovery process, could turn up new evidence of wrongdoing, not just on BP's part, but across the entire offshore drilling industry. Given the revelations last week by Rep. Ed Markey's committee that the five major offshore drilling companies had each submitted nearly identical response plan documents, there are hefty implications for all the major oil companies engaged in offshore drilling, some or all of which might be added as defendants in these RICO suits.

Eastland elaborates:

   "There are a number of issues in addition to the textbook mail and wire fraud RICO predicate acts involved in our civil complaints that fully warrant further investigation and potential additional claims. Just the fact that other big oil companies admitted before Congress that they submitted essentially identical emergency response plans to secure offshore drilling permits - plans these companies now acknowledge they were never capable of carrying out - raises serious questions as to whether there was an overall conspiracy by Big Oil. All of these companies made such representations and assurances in order to make billions on offshore drilling while ignoring the need for actual safeguards against environmental and economic catastrophe."

Under the racketeering statute, a defendant may be guilty of a RICO conspiracy by merely agreeing to the "objective" of the conspiracy. That raises very serious questions about the fate of the entire industry, since all the major oil companies made the same misrepresentations in their response plans about their emergency capabilities. They led the public to believe they had it all covered, but as we see in the blackened Gulf today, not so much.

Eastland explains:

   "They knew they were lying, yet they would rather go make the profits on dangerous offshore drilling and leave the American public at risk. They never should have been out there in the first place since they knew they couldn't respond to such a disaster. The exact cause of the disaster is irrelevant in this case. It wouldn't matter if it had been a meteorite that hit the rig. These companies falsely assured the public that they had a plan to handle such a spill, even though they knew all along they didn't. That's plainly illegal."

   "There's been a lot of people prodding the administration about the need to talk tough to the oil companies. But we don't need tough talk to address their egregious behavior. We already have tough laws on the books that address such selfish, greedy, unlawful conduct."

"Big Oil's big lies are about to come home to roost," Eastland predicts.

The initial RICO case filed in Florida, Rinke v. BP, is available here [PDF 1.6 MB].

See original at Huffington Post for all links.

Originally posted to bdemelle on Thu Jun 24, 2010 at 11:27 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  FL (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jimreyn, peacestpete

      Suits need to be filed in FL so appeals will not end up in the fifth.

      •  First suit is in FL (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        renzo capetti

        Rinke v. BP was filed in FL.

        •  Pensacola paper: "In the greedy interest of (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Statusquomustgo, CroneWit, allep10

          billions of dollars in offshore drilling profits, BP chose to misrepresent its capability to respond and prevent impact to the environment, the public and the plaintiffs, and concealed its incapacity to response," the suit says.
          It lists Pensacola Beach developer and property owner Robert Rinke as a plaintiff and BP, its North American subsidiaries and BP CEO Tony Hayward as defendants.

          The conspiracy of deregulation and shallow oversight lowered the value of Rinke's property and other home and condominium owners' properties along the Gulf Coast, the suit says.
          The suit also references a 2000 retreat for government officials hosted by former Vice President Dick Cheney with the goal of drafting a national energy policy.

          The meeting, which is now referred to the "Cheney Energy Task Force," was attended by a number of oil executives, including BP's regional president Bob Malone, the lawsuit alleges.

          "Upon information and belief, part of BP's agenda at the meetings included installing oil industry appointments to MMS and other agencies so that BP could fraudulently cut corners on safeguards for offshore drilling projects," the lawsuit claims.

          Those rolled-back safety standards are at the heart of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, a 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City Refinery and the 2007 release of 200,000 gallons of crude oil into the Alaskan wilderness, the suit says. (Source) (emphasis added)

          "Separate but equal" isn't. Anyone kept involuntarily separate can't possibly be considered "equal."

          by 1BQ on Thu Jun 24, 2010 at 01:32:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I'm an attorney, ergo, (10+ / 0-)

    you may take my comment with a grain of salt:

    "These claims are just the tip of the iceberg, and we fully anticipate adding additional claims and defendants as this civil litigation progresses. The public deserves to know the whole truth."

    Translation:  "We got screwed when the $20 billion escrow account was negotiated, so now we are trying another legal angle.  We don't actually have all the facts yet, but we had to get ahead of the other big class action firms."

    Color me unimpressed -- the "truth" is the last thing on the list of priorities.

    "We think the truth is bad enough. It obviously is." -- Fishgrease

    by gchaucer2 on Thu Jun 24, 2010 at 11:36:04 AM PDT

    •  I have been wondering when the Feds (7+ / 0-)

      where going to bring the boom down on BP for the false statements in their applications. Isn't signing those claims a type of perjury? After all they have given their assurances that a) this would not happen and b)that if it did they would be able to clean it up without damage to the beaches.

      Both of those claims are clearly untrue on the face, especially the last one.

      Getting Democrats together and keeping them that way is like herding cats that are high on meth, through L.A., during an earthquake, in the rain -6.25, -6.10

      by Something the Dog Said on Thu Jun 24, 2010 at 11:41:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I am confident (8+ / 0-)

        that that issue, among a zillion others, is part of the criminal investigation and EPA's debarment considerations.  It is beyond perjury -- it is a fraud on the government which has both civil and criminal consequences.

        "We think the truth is bad enough. It obviously is." -- Fishgrease

        by gchaucer2 on Thu Jun 24, 2010 at 11:45:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  fraud enticed and enabled by the govt (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          gogol, jimreyn, Glorfindel, CroneWit

          -- rubberstamping applications in 10 minutes?  Approving plans with nonexistent walruses?  Can't they read?  Of course they can.  They chose not to.

          These law firms should include the govt in their RICO charges.  Plutocracy is RICO.

          •  Plus the $20 billion shakedown (0+ / 0-)

            conveniently deflects scrutiny of the government's part in enabling BP and the disaster -- don't look back

            •  "shakedown"? (4+ / 0-)

              Is that you, Barton?  Perhaps you don't do much reading, but there is an ongoing investigation of MMS.

              "We think the truth is bad enough. It obviously is." -- Fishgrease

              by gchaucer2 on Thu Jun 24, 2010 at 12:26:59 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  call it what you want (0+ / 0-)

                except don't call it Constitutional.

                •  Hilarious (5+ / 0-)

                  how about you read the Oil Pollution Act and National Contingency Plan and get back to me.  

                  "We think the truth is bad enough. It obviously is." -- Fishgrease

                  by gchaucer2 on Thu Jun 24, 2010 at 12:49:57 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  The act that puts Obama in charge of cleanup (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    and not BP?

                    The Spill, The Scandal and the President
                    By  Tim Dickinson
                    Rolling Stone 1107 from June 24, 2010
                    Jun 08, 2010 4:30 PM EDT

                    Instead of seizing the reins, the Obama administration cast itself in a supporting role, insisting that BP was responsible for cleaning up the mess. "When you say the company is responsible and the government has oversight," a reporter asked Gibbs on May 3rd, "does that mean that the government is ultimately in charge of the cleanup?" Gibbs was blunt: "No," he insisted, "the responsible party is BP." In fact, the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan – the federal regulations that lay out the command-and-control responsibilities for cleaning up an oil spill – makes clear that an oil company like BP cannot be left in charge of such a serious disaster. The plan plainly states that the government must "direct all federal, state or private actions" to clean up a spill "where a discharge or threat of discharge poses a substantial threat to the public health or welfare of the United States."


                    What's more, the administration failed to ensure that BP was prepared to respond to the mess on the surface,
                    where a lack of ships and equipment has left more than 100 miles of the coast – including vast stretches of fragile marshlands – covered in crude. According to MMS regulations, the agency is supposed to "inspect the stockpiles of industry's equipment for the containment and cleanup of oil spills." In BP's case, the agency should have made sure the company was prepared to clean up a spill of 250,000 barrels a day. But when Rolling Stone asked MMS whether BP had the required containment equipment on hand, the agency's head of public affairs in the Gulf replied, "I am not clear if MMS has the info that you are requesting."

                    The effect of leaving BP in charge of capping the well, says a scientist involved in the government side of the effort, has been "like a drunk driver getting into a car wreck and then helping the police with the accident investigation." Indeed, the administration has seemed oddly untroubled about leaving the Gulf's fate in the hands of a repeat criminal offender, and uncurious about the crimes that may have been committed leading up to the initial sinking of the rig. The Obama Justice Department took more than 40 days after the initial blast killed 11 workers to announce it was opening a criminal probe.

                    A little negligence like that, $20 billion will wash it all away

    •  I would trust the lawyers on this much (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OHdog, bdemelle

      more than BP. And if the lawyers win so much the better

    •  does this mean you think BP was not in the (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      wrong and should not be sued for this?  Are all the facts ever in before a trial?  Don't they have to start the process so they can subpoena documents? What exactly is your point here?  ARe you subscribing to the right wing anti "trial lawyer" frame?  do you think this is a "frivolous" lawsuit?  What?

      •  People can do a lot of things (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        VClib, thestructureguy
        wrong w/o triggering RICO.  Just because this suit is goofy doesn't mean BP wasn't in the wrong.
      •  Sounds to me (and IANAL) that s/he's saying (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gogol, bluegrass50

        that the lawyers filing this RICO suit  are going to be without clients if they just file for and receive claims under the fund money, but that this is a way for them to sign up clients who may be willing to try for triple damages.  I don't get the impression that this is being called frivolous or a waste of time - just that this is being called a way for a group of lawyers to try and pursue a new angle and perhaps win big.

        I would prefer the government to pursue a RICO with criminal consequences since I think the best way to get these oil execs making the decision to put profits above safety to pay attention would be to deprive them of both their profits and their liberty.

        If, however, it takes this civil suit to get at the information that will help the government's case - I say that's good too.

  •  Sounds like Chicago style politics to me (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    msmacgyver, GrogInOhio, whaddaya

    Threatening BP with a RICO suit. I wonder how much these lawyers can shake them down for. (this is snark)

    I'm not worried about your state of mind, 'cause, you're not the revolutionary kind - Gomez

    by jhecht on Thu Jun 24, 2010 at 11:36:53 AM PDT

  •  A great way to get in the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    case when you don't have real clients.  Plus the statue awards costs and attorney fees despite the amount of damages.  

    Eat recycled food. It's good for the environment and OK for you.

    by thestructureguy on Thu Jun 24, 2010 at 11:39:55 AM PDT

    •  Focus your ire on the correct target perhaps? (5+ / 0-)

      What is with everyone harping on trial lawyers and Obama here?  The target for your ire ought to be BP and the rest of the oil industry that misled the public and lied about their capabilities to respond to massive disasters.  Did any of you actually read my post?  There are "real clients," this is a class action. Robert Rinke is the lead plaintiff, he's quite real. There are plenty more real Gulf residents that need our support, and they need justice from the real perps here - the oil industry. Not Dems, Not Obama, not the boogeyman. Target = BP et al.  If you don't think trial lawyers can bring the pain to the oil industry, review your history on tobacco, asbestos, etc.
      Shouldn't we be throwing every statute imaginable at the oil industry to clean up this mess and provide remedies for the victims?  Why so pessimistic around here?

      •  I'm all in favor of getting every dollar (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gogol, VClib

        BP has and more.  I'm actually in favor of driving them out of business.  But I want it to go to the people that need it and have been harmed.  There are many great attorney's on the job now.  There are also many attorney's just out for their fees and could care less about clients.  I see it all the time.  As you say, I want us to focus on the people getting their money not the attorneys.  Not pro BP just anti ambulance chaser.

        Eat recycled food. It's good for the environment and OK for you.

        by thestructureguy on Thu Jun 24, 2010 at 12:28:10 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  what a load of crap. Pure right wing (0+ / 0-)

      talking points. Thanks but no thanks.

  •  go lawyers! This is why the right wing (6+ / 0-)

    corporatists who run this country hate "trial lawyers". Because trial lawyers actually try to do something about fraud. Congress does nothing

  •  I dare the republicans to bring up tort reform. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Great diary.

    "Leave no authority existing not responsible to the people."Thomas Jefferson

    by Sydserious on Thu Jun 24, 2010 at 12:10:47 PM PDT

    •  don't worry, they will. Joe Barton will (5+ / 0-)

      apologize to BP for this suit and bring legislation barring lawyers from suing corporations for anything, unless of course it is a suit by a corporate trial lawyer who is suing an individual on behalf of a corporation, or another corporation on behalf of a corporation.

      You see, trial lawyers are bad only when they work for anyone other than a corporation.  

  •  Excellent! Thanks for posting. n/t (0+ / 0-)

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