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New 'Spillionaires' Cash In on Gulf Oil Spill, Report Says


April 21, 2010: Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns in the Gulf of Mexico. In the year since the Gulf oil spill, officials along the coast have gone on a spending spree with BP money, dropping tens of millions of dollars on gadgets, vehicles and gear _ much of which had little to do with the cleanup, an Associated Press investigation shows. (AP)

They were hired to help clean up the Gulf oil spill. But some contractors cleaned up in a different way, overcharging BP for the work by thousands of dollars, according to an investigation by ProPublica that was co-published by the Washington Post. 

These so-called “spillionaires” appeared to have overcharged BP for a wide range of items, from overtime to rent for land. The report encompassed the entire spill but focused much of its attention on the deals struck in St. Bernard Parish in southern Louisiana.

"This parish raped BP," Wayne Landry, the chairman of the St. Bernard Parish Council told ProPublica. “At the end of the day, it really just frustrates me. I'm an elected official. I have guilt by association."

One subcontractor in the parish charged BP $15,400 a month for a generator that usually costs $1,500 a month, according to the report released Wednesday. The report also says the parish sheriff charged BP $1 million a month for a parcel of land that usually fetches $1,700.

The report described St. Bernard’s Parish President Craig Taffaro Jr., as the main powerbroker in the parish who would divvy up cleaning jobs to cronies and relatives. Taffaro, for example, chose Loupe Construction, a small, family-run business to oversee the cleanup in the parish, the report said, adding that the company would eventually send the oil giant a $125 million bill.

"That company had no particular expertise in oil mitigation -- none," Landry, the parish council chair, told ProPublica. "But we've been kept in the dark on the entire operation."

The report suggests that parish residents, who were battered by Hurricane Katrina, looked to BP to make up for earlier financial blows. The parish watched its population drop by almost half and cut out garbage collections and mosquito control to deal with a slashed budget.

BP made clear during the spill that it “wanted to make things right,” and this report is not the first to suggest people took advantage of the company.

The Associated Press recently released a report about how police officers in Mississippi purchased Tasers with BP money. And the sewer department also purchased a $300,000 vacuum truck.

Florida's tourism agency sent chunks of a $32 million BP grant as far away as Miami-Dade and Broward counties on the state's east coast, which never saw oil from the disaster. BP announced Monday it would give another $30 million to help several northwest Florida counties promote tourism.

ProPublica made clear that some individuals were paid appropriately and some may have been unsatisfactorily compensated. BP gave limited information to ProPublica and declined to comment on whether it was overcharged.

Since the April 20 spill, BP has paid $16 billion for the cleanup.

Please click here to read ProPublica's full report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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