The Justice Department has filed its first criminal charges related to the massive Gulf oil spill in 2010, a watershed moment indeed, except that the charges aren't for the alleged crimes one might expect. Justice has long been suggesting they might prosecute people at BP, and in December The Wall Street Journal reported that those charges might relate to "employees [who] may have provided false information to regulators about the risks associated with the Gulf of Mexico well while its drilling was in progress." Not so! Or not yet anyway. (There may be more charges coming.) The government is alleging today that an engineer obstructed justice by deleting some texts while trying to repair the leaking well. The charges involve Kurt Mix, a former engineer for BP, who was helping with the "top kill" attempt to stem the flow of oil from the well. That effort, you may recall, failed. From Justice's press release today:
On or about Oct. 4, 2010, after Mix learned that his electronic files were to be collected by a vendor working for BP’s lawyers, Mix allegedly deleted on his iPhone a text string containing more than 200 text messages with a BP supervisor. The deleted texts, some of which were recovered forensically, included sensitive internal BP information collected in real-time as the Top Kill operation was occurring, which indicated that Top Kill was failing.
So, Mix allegedly deleted some texts warning that the Top Kill might not be working, which is information we all now know. It's obviously unwise to withhold information from the investigators, and if Mix committed the crime, he should certainly be charged. But this isn't really the criminal charge people expect when they hear "government files criminal charges in BP oil spill" since his crime didn't, you know, cause an oil spill. At any rate, these charges are the first, but some news outlets report there may be more to come, and if there are, these ones probably won't be the most interesting.