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Ex-BP engineer appears in chains to face criminal charges

April 24, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Neela Banerjee
  • Criminal charges against a former BP engineer are the first to emerge from the investigation into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010.
Criminal charges against a former BP engineer are the first to emerge from… (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)

HOUSTON — A former BP engineer appeared in federal court Tuesday chained at the wrist and ankles to face criminal charges that he intentionally deleted hundreds of text messages about the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico from the company's blown-out well in 2010.

Kurt Mix, 50, of Katy, Texas, was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and released on a $100,000 bond.

U.S. Magistrate Stephen Smith asked Mix whether he understood the charges against him and the possible penalties if convicted — a 20-year sentence and $250,000 fine on each count. Mix nodded and said, "I understand." When the judge asked whether Mix had read the complaint filed against him, he said, "Yes, sir, I have."

They are the first criminal charges to emerge from the federal investigation into the gulf oil spill and involve actions that Mix allegedly took after the deadly April 20, 2010, explosion.

Houston lawyer David Gerger represented Mix at the hearing, but he said he was standing in for Boston-based lawyer Joan McPhee, who will be representing Mix for the long term.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Scott M. Cullen said a supervised release of Mix was agreed to by both sides. Under the agreement, Mix turned over his passport and agreed not to travel outside Texas and Louisiana. He declined to comment outside court.

After the 15-minute hearing, marshals led Mix from court.

Mix was a drilling and completions engineer for BP. According to court documents, he worked on BP's efforts to estimate the flow of oil from the well and on attempts to stop the leak. BP sent Mix "numerous messages" to preserve all information and communications regarding the well, including text messages, the documents said.

On or about Oct, 4, 2010, after Mix learned that his electronic files would be collected for BP's lawyers, he deleted from his iPhone a string of more than 200 text messages with his BP supervisor, according to the court documents.

The texts, some of which were recovered, included internal BP information while it was trying to halt the flow of oil from the well by pumping heavy mud into it. In one text, Mix allegedly said, "Too much flowrate -- over 15,000" barrels of oil a day. That was triple the official public estimate BP was providing at the time.

Another allegation centers on events on or about Aug. 19, 2011, when Mix purportedly deleted more than 100 text messages with a BP contractor with whom he was working on the rate of oil flowing from the well.

In an email statement to the Associated Press, BP said it would not comment on the case but was cooperating with the Justice Department and other investigations.

"BP had clear policies requiring preservation of evidence in this case and has undertaken substantial and ongoing efforts to preserve evidence," the statement said.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

neela.banerjee@latimes.com

Hennessy-Fiske reported from Houston and Banerjee from Washington.

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