A lawyer working for the administrator reviewing claims from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has abruptly resigned amid charges that he collected money from settlements handled by a New Orleans law firm to which he had referred claims.
Lionel H. Sutton III, who was placed on administrative leave after the charges were made public, has voluntarily resigned from the Deepwater Horizon Claims Administration, agency spokesman Nick Gagliano told The Times. Gagliano said he could not discuss any details of the departure.
“While it is under investigation, we cannot make any statements,” Gagliano said in the telephone interview.
Telephone calls made to Sutton were not returned.
The Associated Press this week reported that Sutton was mentioned in allegations that he had referred claims to a New Orleans law firm in exchange for portions of subsequent settlement payments. The lawyer allegedly filed those claims before he went to work for the agency, according to people familiar with the situation but who were not identified by the news service.
Friday’s action grows out of the nation’s worst environmental disaster and the subsequent legal proceedings over the cleanup and compensation.
In April 2010, the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers. About 200 million gallons of crude oil from the Macondo well a mile below the surface poured into the gulf. Before the well was capped in July, oil had floated to the coast, collecting on beaches and marshes from Louisiana to Florida, fouling businesses from fishing to tourism.
The rig had been leased by BP, the London-based oil company, which set up a $20-billion compensation fund for individuals and businesses affected by the spill. The claims fund initially was handled by lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, but Patrick Juneau took over as claims administrator after a settlement was reached last year among the various parties. That settlement is overseen by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans.
Barbier had upheld Juneau’s decisions on how the payments to individuals are made. BP has appealed, and the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear the case in July.
Juneau delivered a report to Barbier this week about the allegations involving Sutton. The judge then met with Juneau, BP lawyers and the private attorneys who negotiated the settlement, according to AP.
In a statement emailed Friday to reporters by Geoff Morrell, BP’s head of U.S. communications, the oil company called for an independent investigation of the allegations.
“We are very concerned about these allegations and believe that only a comprehensive and independent investigation will ensure the integrity of the claims process.”