A former BP Plc (BP/) engineer charged with destroying evidence sought in a federal probe of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill won permission to travel within the U.S. until his case comes to trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles in New Orleans today rejected federal prosecutors’ arguments in court filings that Kurt Mix, facing obstruction of justice charges for allegedly deleting text messages about the spill, should be prohibited from traveling outside Texas, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New York without the judge’s permission.
“You will be permitted to travel in the continental U.S.,” Knowles told the ex-BP employee at a hearing today. Mix must notify court officials if he’s traveling outside the original four-state area, the judge added.
Mix, who worked on internal BP efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well, was arrested last month in the first criminal case arising from the spill. The Justice Department, which began investigating the incident in June 2010, said in April it was continuing to consider whether to file more criminal charges over the spill. The charges against Mix will probably be followed by others, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last month.
Scott Dean, a U.S.-based spokesman for BP, didn’t immediately return a call for comment on Knowles’s ruling in connection with Mix’s bail conditions.
A U.S. grand jury had been investigating the spill estimates, Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Barbara O’Donnell said in a sworn statement filed April 23 in the Mix case.
“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 the statement.
Mix deleted the e-mails in October 2010 after 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 Mix’s May 2 indictment.
Mix brought the deletions to the attention of the government, his attorney, Joan McPhee, told Knowles at her client’s arraignment May 3.
“Mr. Mix saved thousands of e-mails and hundreds of text messages,” she said. The information saved includes flow rate data, work on the efforts to contain the spill, and his personal log notes, she added.
Under Knowles’s modification of Mix’s bail provisions, the former engineer won’t have to file a motion with the judge when he wants to travel outside the original four-state area.
Knowles said Mix’s defense attorneys made a “very legitimate point” by noting the former engineer was forced to pay his lawyers to file papers every time he wanted to travel outside of Texas, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New York.
Mix lives outside Houston and must travel to Louisiana to attend court hearings. He sometimes has to travel to Massachusetts and New York to meet with his lawyers, according to court filings.
“There is no credible evidence that Kurt Mix presents a risk of flight,” McPhee told the magistrate during the hearing
Derek Cohen, a prosecutor, told Knowles that government officials remain concerned that Mix might fail to show up for trial.Mix failed to disclose that he explored relocating to Canada a month after the government sought to interview him about the deleted text messages, Cohen said.
The case is U.S. v. Mix, 12-cr-0017, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).
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