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Former BP Engineer Kurt Mix Asks For Charges Against Him To Be Dismissed

November 19, 2012 // BP, BP, Business, Law, News and Views

Article written by Walter Pavlo

Can a person be charged for Obstruction of Justice and go to prison for 20 years for throwing away personal information during a federal investigation? I’m not sure what the answer to that is but a person can certainly be charged for it. Former BP drilling engineer Kurt Mix knows this well after his arrest earlier this year for allegedly deleting text message strings from his iPhone during his work to STOP the Macando Well from spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Mix has now asked a federal judge to dismiss those charges with a motion filed yesterday in the Eastern District of Louisiana. 

I’m not much for conspiracy theories but I did think that Bruce Thompson over at American Thinker had a point in his blog back in April stating that Mix was arrested to get him to turn on others….others who were responsible for the actual oil spill. It’s a common, and effective, tactic deployed by the government to start with an arrest of small, bit players and work their way up. However, to date the only person arrested from the BP team has been Kurt Mix who was recruited by BP hours after the Macondo Well exploded on April 20,2010. Mix had never worked on the oil Well prior to the explosion/spill. According to recent motions filed by Mix’s attorney, Joan McPhee of Ropes & Gray, LLP, Mix worked tirelessly on computer models to generate the flow rate of oil from the Well in order to come up with a solution to stop it. While Kurt Mix was busy with his fellow engineers on that task, former BP CEO Tony Hayward had his own calculation, calling the amount of oil “relatively tiny” compared with “the very big ocean.” Hayward’s calculation was way off track and he eventually left BP with a nice pension of 11 million pounds (I’ll let you do the math but it’s a lot). Meanwhile, Mix labored away.

With no other arrests, save the poor soul Mix, it is apparent to me that the only person in the government’s sights for prosecution in the BP oil spill is Kurt Mix. Their accusation, as I’ve written on before, is that Mix deleted two strings of text messages while he was under orders from BP to not do that during the operations to cap the Well. The majority of the content of those messages was personal in nature (complaints of back pain, lunch plans, etc.), prompting McPhee to ask in a court motion that “if” there were messages deleted, which ones were so incriminating that they could motivate Mix to hit “delete”? McPhee, like any good defense attorney, is trying to make a case for her client but the government is making it difficult and did not provide an answer to which texts they found most offensive.

McPhee also contends the government is withholding evidence that would exonerate Mix and most recently filed a motion requesting those documents from the government that show “flow rate” from the Well. Those documents, McPhee contends, would render Mix’s deletions (if they even occurred) irrelevant. Those documents have not been turned over by the government either. It should be noted that the government has its own legal complaints against Mix. They have asked the court to suppress evidence that demonstrates that Mix did turn over hundreds of pages of documents reflecting his calculations, thereby asserting that he had nothing to hide by deleting any information. My guess is that such a disclosure would hurt the government’s case. The government further contends that even if Mix “preserved exact duplicates of the [allegedly deleted] text message strings”…that would still have no relevance to the charge of Obstruction. The government’s case is that messages were deleted, whether or not they were relevant or that the contents were contained in other places should not matter in this criminal case.

The latest motion submitted yesterday by McPhee on behalf of Mix calls for U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval to dismiss the case in its entirety because the two criminal counts of Obstruction relate to text messages that are “so patently innocuous that it is beyond the realm of possibility that Mix could have impeded a grand jury proceeding [obstruction] by deleting them.”

There was a great quote by David Uhlmann, a former head of the Justice Department’s environmental crime unit and now a professor at the University of Michigan, who said of Mix’s prosecution, “I think it is time for the government to move beyond questions about iPhone messages and on to the real question at hand, which is determining who is responsible for the worst accidental oil spill in history.” I think most would agree with this statement.

Maybe Mix hit “delete” but nobody can seem to say why he did it. What was his motivation? Protect the multi-billion dollar corporation, BP? I doubt it. The focus of this prosecution has to do with a narrowly focused action of deleting a text message, and something tells me that that may have happened. However, it begs the question to the government, “Just because you can bring charges, does that mean that you should?”

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