Gulfport, Miss – Mikal C. Watts, 48, David Watts, 50, Wynter Lee, 37, of San Antonio, Texas, Gregory P. Warren a/k/a Greg Warren, 51, of Lafayette, Louisiana, Hector Eloy Guerra, 48, of Harlingen, Texas, Thi Houng Le a/k/a Kristy Le, 48, of Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Thi Hoaug Nguyen a/k/a Abbie Nguyen, 30, of Grand Bay, Alabama, were indicted on September 15, 2015 by a federal grand jury on 95 counts of Conspiracy, Mail and Wire Fraud, Identity Theft, and Aggravated Identity Theft, announced U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis and U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Craig Caldwell.
The indictment, unsealed today, alleges that the defendants conspired to defraud numerous victims from Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, and elsewhere, as well as the Gulf Coast Claims Facility and BP. As set forth in the indictment, the defendants, without contacting the individuals, would obtain names, addresses, dates of birth, and social security numbers from any source available to create "clients" for anticipated litigation as a result of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The indictment further alleges that the defendants fraudulently submitted names of over 40,000 individuals as plaintiffs represented by defendant Mikal C. Watts in litigation related to the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill, knowing that the individuals had not consented to be represented by the firm, and/or that stolen and false social security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, and occupations were claimed. According to the indictment, the defendants attempted to obtain payments from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility for persons Mikal C. Watts claimed to represent and ultimately submitted "Presentment Forms" to BP for each of the 40,000 plus individuals Mikal C. Watts claimed to represent. The indictment alleges that the total amount of claims submitted by the defendants to BP was in excess of $2 billion.
"The defendants in this case are accused of exploiting a disaster relief program set up to help those who were injured or suffered an economic loss as a result of the BP Oil spill – the worst environmental disaster in American history," said U.S. Attorney Davis. "The indictment alleges that the defendants carried out mail and wire fraud schemes using stolen identities of coastal residents in order to enrich themselves." Davis praised the outstanding investigative work of the U.S. Secret Service in their investigation of this complex case.
"This indictment represents the largest disaster fraud identity theft case to date, associated with the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trust. This case highlights the Secret Service’s investigative expertise in combatting some of the most sophisticated, prolific financial crimes over our 150 year history," said Craig S. Caldwell, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service Birmingham Field Office. "This investigation serves as a great example of the steps the Secret Service will undertake to relentlessly defend the Nation’s financial infrastructure."
Conspiracy carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Each count of Mail and Wire Fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Each count of Identity Theft carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Each count of Aggravated Identity Theft carries a two year mandatory sentence and a $250,000 fine.
The defendants are scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Gargiulo on Thursday, October 29, 2015 at 1:30 p.m. for their initial appearance and arraignment. Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Dowdy and Jerry Rushing are prosecuting the case for the government.
The public is reminded that an indictment is a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of the federal criminal laws. All defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
If you believe you were a victim of identity theft in connection with this case or if you have any knowledge of fraudulent claims or schemes to obtain funds intended for the victims of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, please contact the Gulf Coast Disaster Fraud Hotline at (877)NCDF GCF (623-3423).